SINGAPORE - The first Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight staffed by pilots and cabin crew vaccinated against the coronavirus left Changi Airport on Thursday (Feb 11), marking a significant milestone for the battered national carrier.
Flight SQ956 took off for Jakarta at 9.30am carrying a crew of 12, and is the first of three departing SIA Group flights with crew who have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Scoot flight TR606 to Bangkok also left Changi at 9.30am with a set of 11 vaccinated crew members, while SilkAir's first vaccinated flight MI608 will leave for Phnom Penh at 4.30pm with a crew of eight.
The crew members are among more than 52,000 personnel in the transport sector who have received their first dose of the vaccine as at Feb 10.
The Ministry of Transport said more than 39,000 workers in the aviation and maritime sectors have gotten their first jab - over 90 per cent of the 43,000 front-liners in both sectors.
More than 14,000 land transport workers have also received the first dose of the vaccine, with the remaining 66,000 scheduled to get their jabs in the coming months.
In a statement, SIA Group, which has suffered billions in losses because of the ongoing pandemic, said it is among the first airlines in the world to operate flights with fully vaccinated crews.
Noting that the Government has prioritised the aviation sector in the national drive to vaccinate Singaporeans and other long-term residents, SIA said this reflected the sector's importance and the national carrier's crucial role in Singapore's economic recovery and the fight against Covid-19.
SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong said: "Vaccinations will be key to the reopening of borders and to enhancing travel confidence, in tandem with robust testing regimes and the wide-ranging safe management measures that are in place on the ground and in the air."
He added: "They offer greater protection for our people and provide an added layer of assurance to our customers."
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, who spoke to crew members operating SQ956 on Thursday morning, said the vaccination drive has been "proceeding like clockwork".
He told reporters he is confident that a substantial number of workers from the aviation and maritime sectors will be fully vaccinated by the end of the month.
Singapore's biggest vulnerability is its border, he said, given that the virus is under control here with very few community cases.
"If the border staff that come into contact with the outside world are all vaccinated, I think we would have really taken a very big step in securing our border and keeping Singaporeans safe," he added.
Passenger traffic at Changi Airport, which has been decimated by Covid-19, fell by 82.8 per cent last year.
Front-line workers in the aviation and maritime sectors started getting jabs on Jan 13 as part of an operational trial, before the mass exercise began in earnest on Jan 18.
Bus and train workers started getting jabs from Jan 25.
SIA said its operating crew members have responded very positively to the exercise, with more than 90 per cent of cabin crew and pilots signing up for the vaccine to date.
Its milestone comes days after a 41-year-old cabin crew member on a turnaround flight to the United Arab Emirates tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Singaporean woman was the fifth person on the flight to test positive, with preliminary test results showing that all five had contracted the more infectious B117 strain of the virus.
The air stewardess had departed Singapore for Dubai on Jan 30 and returned on Jan 31 without disembarking from the aircraft.
She then received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Feb 2. She lost her sense of smell two days later but did not seek medical attention.
Her case was eventually picked up during routine testing as required by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
The Health Ministry reiterated on Tuesday that it takes a few weeks for individuals to build up immunity against Covid-19 after completing vaccination, and it is possible to get infected just before or after inoculation.
Other airlines have also begun vaccinating their crew.
Mr Ong said last month that SIA could be the first vaccinated international airline of the world.
On Wednesday, Etihad Airways staked its claim as the first airline in the world to have inoculated all its operating pilots and cabin crew.
The United Arab Emirates airline said in a statement that more than three-quarters of its workforce have already received at least one dose of the vaccine.