Coronavirus: Singapore

Key things to note for quarantine-free travel under VTL scheme

People in Singapore can now plan vacations again, with nine new countries added to the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

Here are some things to note about the new normal of pandemic leisure travel. The information is correct as at yesterday.

Q: How do travellers register and pre-pay for the pre-departure polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test?

A: Before their trip, travellers must ensure they meet their destination's entry requirements, including any pre-departure Covid-19 tests required.

Check with the immigration authority or embassy of the destination country on the health requirements for travellers from Singapore.

Go to Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for the latest advisories on your destination at https://www.mfa.gov.sg/Where-Are-You-Travelling-To

Book a pre-departure test at an internationally accredited or recognised laboratory, clinic or medical facility at https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/accreditation-bodies-for-covid-19-testing

For countries which are not listed, seek advice from the country's or region's equivalent of the ministry of health for approved Covid-19 PCR test providers.

Singapore Airlines has a pre-departure test booking service for Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Britain.

Entry requirements may change at short notice and travellers are advised to check the latest travel advisory issued by the local authorities before their trip.

Those heading to Britain on the VTL scheme, for instance, will no longer need to take pre-departure tests.

Before flying to England, travellers must book and pay for a day two Covid-19 test at https://www.gov.uk/find-travel-test-provider, to be taken after arrival in England. The on-arrival test must be taken on or before day two in the country.

On-arrival tests when returning to Singapore can be booked at https://safetravel.changiairport.com/#/

Q: Will travel insurance cost more? What kind of coverage do I need?

A: While premiums will depend on the coverage, costs of travel insurance with Covid-19 coverage have risen sharply.

Dynasty Travel, which recommends AIG Travel Guard Direct insurance, says costs have increased by up to 35 per cent for those below 40 years old, and up to 63 per cent for those aged 51 and above.

For instance, insurance for a 10-day Europe trip used to cost $99 for a 55-year-old before the pandemic. It costs about $156 now.

Take note of the minimum coverage. South Korea, for instance, requires travel insurance with a minimum coverage of 30 million won (S$34,000) for Covid-19-related medical treatment and hospitalisation.

Look for a policy that offers Covid-19 coverage. At least seven large players here, including Aviva and AXA, offer this.

Policies should cover contingencies such as if your trip is cancelled, postponed or cut short. Other useful coverage includes medical expenses incurred overseas and quarantine allowances.

The latter usually range from $50 to $100 per day and can go towards accommodation, meals and other quarantine-related expenses.

This will come in useful if you test positive for Covid-19 before your return flight and are required to self-isolate in a hotel.

However, such allowances do not apply in countries where quarantine measures are mandatory for all arriving passengers.

Q: What happens if travellers test positive on their pre-departure Covid-19 test?

A: To prevent the spread of Covid-19, airlines will stop travellers from boarding an aircraft if they are diagnosed with Covid-19 14 days or less from the date of travel.

In Germany, for instance, should travellers test positive for Covid-19, the test provider will notify the local health department or Gesundheitsamt, which will then issue an isolation order.

Travellers will be told to enter self-isolation for five to 14 days, until cleared by a PCR test.

For those who are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, this will be done in a hotel and they can leave self-isolation only to take a PCR test. Travellers will need to cover the cost of self-isolation.

Regardless of how long their self-isolation lasts, travellers in Germany cannot depart for Singapore for at least 14 days from the date of the positive result.

Travellers who test positive for Covid-19 in Britain will need to isolate and take a confirmatory PCR test, at no additional cost.

In South Korea, travellers who test positive for Covid-19 within 14 days of entry will have to bear the relevant costs in whole or in part.

Its government will cover costs related to tests and the use of isolation facilities, while travellers will bear the costs related to treatment and food, among other things.

Q: I received the Sinopharm vaccine. Will this be recognised?

A: All countries currently under the VTL scheme recognise the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines offered here.

However, some do not recognise vaccines such as Sinopharm or Sinovac. At present, only the Netherlands, Spain and South Korea allow travellers who have taken these vaccines to enter.

For a list of countries in the European Union/Schengen area that accept both vaccines, go to www.schengenvisainfo.com

Travellers to Singapore can go to https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/arriving/overview to check if their vaccine qualifies them for the VTL.

Q: What is the "winter wave" and should I be worried about it? As temperatures fall in the northern hemisphere towards the year end, respiratory viral infections, from the common cold to Covid-19, become more active.

A: Most respiratory viruses are more easily transmitted indoors, likely due to the proximity between people and increased recycling of air. And when temperatures drop in winter, more people stay indoors.

Between last December and this February, the US hit a peak of more than 3,000 Covid-19 deaths daily.

But vaccines have made a significant difference.

The US-run Covid-19 Scenario Modelling Hub, which projects future cases and deaths, anticipates an average of 90 deaths a day by next February.

With travellers fully vaccinated, catching the virus would be inconvenient, but is unlikely to be deadly.

Q: Who is looking to travel here under the new VTL scheme?

A: It is early days yet, but travel agents say the first wave of visitors will likely be Singaporeans and foreigners with family here who have not been back in a while.

Mr Steven Ler, president of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, anticipates interest from South Korean visitors, as it is fairly close to Singapore and there is a sizeable South Korean community here.

But Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel, said: "We are now open to about 10 per cent of overseas traffic, and the hospitality industry will probably take about two to three years to recover to pre-crisis levels."

Clara Lock and Shermaine Ang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2021, with the headline 'Key things to note for quarantine-free travel under VTL scheme'. Subscribe