Tourists from China not a Covid-19 threat to S’pore’s population: Infectious diseases expert

Singapore has maintained its prevailing Covid-19 rules for incoming travellers from China. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE – Travellers from China do not pose much of a Covid-19 threat to Singapore’s highly vaccinated and resilient population, though there might be a surge in mild cases if the country sees a significant influx of Chinese travellers.

Professor Dale Fisher, a senior infectious diseases consultant at National University Hospital (NUH), made these comments on Friday, as Singapore maintains its prevailing Covid-19 rules for incoming travellers from China, which plans to reopen its borders from Jan 8, 2023.

There are two possible areas of threat to Singapore, he added. One is the threat to Singapore residents, which is very low, and the other is to the Singapore health system.

“If travellers from China have the mindset that with a mild disease they will need to rush to the hospital, then that could be a problem. But I think that can be dealt with by giving them some instructions when they arrive,” Prof Fisher said.

Travellers who are not fully vaccinated, as defined by the World Health Organisation, must undergo pre-departure tests before they can enter Singapore. Short-term visitors are also required to buy insurance for Covid-19-related medical expenses.

China will resume issuing visas to its residents to travel overseas from Jan 8, loosening the country’s zero-Covid regime and ending almost three years of strict quarantine rules.

Prof Fisher does not think that there is a need to set up a testing regimen for asymptomatic travellers, given the costs and infrastructure needed for it, and that most travellers are likely to be vaccinated.

“Setting up testing facilities is not so straightforward and cheap, and we wouldn’t want to do it unless we were really confident that it was necessary. Testing won’t capture all the cases and many people will only turn Covid-19 positive a few days later anyway. Supervised isolation will also be difficult as hotels are back to business as usual,” he added.

When asked if there is a possibility that an entirely new Covid-19 variant might emerge, Prof Fisher said that the chances are low.

“Covid-19 has been ongoing for three years and, yes, we do see smaller mutations. But we do not see a sudden large shift in genetic material that comes from a completely different strain...

“The threats from new novel agents do emerge and our preparedness needs to remain strong. We know the drill. The first thing up if something serious happens will be our mask mandates,” he added.

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