Coronavirus pandemic

Essential business travel to resume first, says minister

Countries need to coordinate standards of health checks, system of tracking infections

Empty check-in counters at Changi Airport Terminal 2 last week. The number of visitors to Singapore plummeted to about 240,000 in March, the lowest since the Sars outbreak. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Empty check-in counters at Changi Airport Terminal 2 last week. The number of visitors to Singapore plummeted to about 240,000 in March, the lowest since the Sars outbreak. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Resuming international travel will require countries to coordinate standards of health checks as well as a system of tracking infected people, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

Preparations are under way to ensure essential business travel can begin to resume, he said.

Mr Chan told reporters during a virtual press conference that he had discussed the issue with his counterparts from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.

Beyond the synchronising of standards on health checks, he said "it will require us to have a system to track and trace in case there is an infected person".

"We are preparing the groundwork. Like what we have asked the companies to do, we are starting the preparations now so that when the time is right, we can then recommence essential business travel."

Focusing on essential travel first will allow the authorities to work out the processes for mass market cross-border travel, which will take a longer time to resume, he said.

The road to recovery for the tourism sector will likely begin with regional travel, Mr Chan said, adding that he had recently had discussions with other Asean tourism ministers.

"One of the things that we talked about is that in the short to medium term, it is likely that domestic tourism will underpin the resumption of the wider revival of the tourism sector," he said.

"In order to do this, we need to do a few things together. First, we need to see how we can market Asean as an integrated package."

Doing so will first require countries to have common health standards, cross-border health declarations and checks, he said.

"This is something that we need to work on."

He noted that Asean member states are at different stages of the curve for the pandemic.

"We will need to make sure that we put in place some of these measures so that when the cases in the various Asean countries subside, we can progressively resume travel," he said.

The number of visitors to Singapore plummeted to about 240,000 in March, the lowest since the severe acute respiratory syndrome or Sars outbreak hit the Republic in 2003.

A ban on short-term visitors to Singapore, implemented in March, remains in place.

The Health Ministry has also advised Singaporeans to defer all overseas travel to reduce the risk of being infected and spreading the coronavirus when they return.

Those who disregard the advisory and then display symptoms of Covid-19 within 14 days of returning to Singapore will be charged unsubsidised rates for inpatient stays at public hospitals if admitted on suspicion of having the disease.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2020, with the headline Essential business travel to resume first, says minister. Subscribe