First China-bound flight takes off after new rules kick in requiring travellers to test negative for Covid-19

All 47 travellers on the flight to Hangzhou had the necessary papers and no one was turned away from boarding.
All 47 travellers on the flight to Hangzhou had the necessary papers and no one was turned away from boarding.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - It was smooth sailing for the first batch of passengers leaving Changi Airport on Friday (Aug 28) after the Chinese Embassy in Singapore imposed stricter requirements on travellers flying to China.

All 47 travellers on Air China Flight CA768 at 4.18pm to Hangzhou had the necessary papers and no one was turned away from boarding.

The Chinese Embassy announced on its website last week (Aug 21) that from Friday, all travellers from Singapore to China will have to take a Covid-19 test within five days before their flight and test negative for the coronavirus.

It said it would not designate specific institutions to carry out the test, and that passengers could choose any hospital or clinic listed on the Singapore Ministry of Health's website.

Among the travellers on Friday was Singaporean Michelle Liew, 56, who was headed to Qingdao via Hangzhou. She said she was travelling for both business and personal reasons.

Her husband - an Australian and Singapore permanent resident - has been stuck in China since February after travelling for work. The couple run a tech and research firm together.

Said Dr Liew: "This is primarily a business trip, but it is also a reunion for us. (The emotional factor) is that I really want to see my husband."

She had paid 30,000 renminbi (S$5,950) for a business class ticket after attempting to get seats on three earlier flights that were later cancelled.

The Chinese Embassy said passengers who test negative for Covid-19 need to e-mail their test result to the embassy, together with a scanned copy of a signed health declaration form and a photocopy of the bio page of their passport.

It will take at least one working day to verify the documents, and more details can be found on the embassy's website, it had added.

Dr Liew said she was able to book a slot to take the swab test at Raffles Medical Clinic in Changi Airport Terminal 3. "It was a bit of a rush when they informed us of the new measures last week and time was very tight... but the clinic's service was professional and it was very smooth," she said.

 
 

Chinese national Cui Li Qing, 42, said he was in a rush to get home due to a family emergency. Mr Cui, who works in the construction sector and has been in Singapore for about three years, said his company paid for his Covid-19 swab test.

Speaking in Mandarin, he said: "Life has been pretty good in Singapore. If not for my family emergency in China, I wouldn't be leaving at this time."

Ms Zhang Yan, 38, also a Chinese national, said her company not only paid for her swab test but also for her plane ticket home. She was at the airport with a former colleague, Ms Tang Yun, 20.

Ms Zhang was working at local food chain Old Chang Kee for the last six years, and had just left her job to return to China for good. She wants to be together with the rest of her family, including her 15-year-old daughter. In fact, she was already planning to return before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, she said.

She said in Mandarin: "Old Chang Kee has been very good to us. I'm very grateful that they made these arrangements for us.

"I was worried that I would not be able to board this flight for whatever reason, or that they would cancel the flight. But now I'm here, I'm very relieved."

Some passengers were worried about hygiene and took their own safety precautions.

A 26-year-old former researcher from the National University of Singapore turned up at the airport on Friday decked out in personal protective equipment, complete with goggles and latex gloves.

 
 

The Hangzhou native, who declined to be named, said: "I felt it was time for me to go home. It has been difficult to get a flight, but Air China announced this flight at the end of last month (July) so it wasn't so bad."

He said preparations for the flight were "quite rushed because I had to figure out where I could do the test", but said he was glad to be able to return home.

He added that he bought the protective outfit especially for the flight. "It's a bit troublesome and quite hot in this isolation suit, but there's no choice, I have to protect myself," he said.

The Transport Ministry and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, in a joint statement on Friday, said passengers departing for China on and after Sept 1 should approach the relevant agencies to arrange a pre-departure Covid-19 test within five days of their flights.

Travel related to essential business and employment will be under the Ministry of Trade and Industry's purview (Covid_SafeTravelEnquiries@mti.gov.sg).

For Chinese nationals with "live" or cancelled work permits and S Passes returning to China, their employers should either schedule their tests via the existing Rostered Regular Tests Swab Registration System if they are eligible, or request for swabs at the Ministry of Manpower's Regional Medical Centres.

The Ministry of Health (MOH_QSM@moh.gov.sg) will handle travel related to education, compassionate reasons, or otherwise.

 
 

MOT and CAAS added that test results may take up to 48 hours to process, so passengers should allow enough time before their flights for the test and to obtain the necessary authorisation from the Chinese Embassy.

Passengers without the certified health declaration form will not be allowed to board their flights.