Singapore prepared to reopen borders further, but with appropriate safeguards: Lawrence Wong

Mr Lawrence Wong said whether places are low-risk or high-risk will be adjusted from time to time.
Mr Lawrence Wong said whether places are low-risk or high-risk will be adjusted from time to time.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore is willing to reopen its borders further but this has to be done safely because of the varying levels of infection and risk in the region and around the world, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (Nov 10).

Outlining the country's general approach on the matter, he said: "Our overall posture towards the opening of our borders is one where we are in principle prepared to consider more opening up, but it has to be done safely and with appropriate safeguards."

Therefore, if the country with which Singapore is in discussions on reopening travel has a similar incidence rate of Covid-19 infection as Singapore, allowing its travellers testing instead of having to serve a stay-home notice(SHN), or a shortened SHN of about seven days at their residence, can be considered.

However, if the country has a higher rate of infection and its travellers are assessed to be of higher risk, the full 14-day SHN must apply, the minister added.

"Most of them will be in the dedicated facilities and hotels, but in some instances, based on risk assessment, we might allow them to stay at home, but subject to electronic monitoring device," he said.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus, was responding to questions from reporters on Singapore reopening its borders, including to travellers from jurisdictions like South-east Asian countries, Taiwan and Macau.

At Tuesday's press conference, the task force announced that all inbound travellers from high-risk places who are not Singapore citizens or permanent residents will have to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test 72 hours before their departure.

Mr Wong said whether places are low-risk or high-risk will be adjusted from time to time.

Asked about Indonesia's plan to propose a regional travel corridor when Asean leaders meet virtually at their biannual summit chaired by Vietnam this week, and whether Singapore will support it, Mr Wong noted that there have not been a lot of details put out to consider specifically.

But he said the same principles the task force outlined will apply.

"Within the region, the countries have different incidence rates, different prevalence rates. You cannot apply a single measure to all the countries in the region," he said. "We will still look at it country by country, and apply these same principles to individual countries."

He was also asked why travellers from Macau and Taiwan, both of which have reported zero community cases for some time, still have to serve a seven-day SHN upon arrival in Singapore.

Currently, only travellers from Brunei, New Zealand, Vietnam, Australia and mainland China do not have to serve an SHN upon arrival in Singapore. Instead, they are required only to take a Covid-19 test upon landing here.

Mr Wong said the requirements are "where it is now" and can be adjusted later on if Macau and Taiwan continue to remain low-risk. The situation is changing by the day and Singapore is watching developments very closely, he added.

"The assessments of risk are dynamic and will constantly evolve. From time to time, adjustments will be made as to where these different countries or places are banded," he said.

Mr Wong added that Singapore is keen on discussing air travel bubbles with places that are of similar Covid-19 incidence as Singapore or are safe and low-risk.

Singapore has a travel bubble arrangement with Hong Kong that is expected to kick in later this month.

Whether more such arrangements can be made will depend on whether both jurisdictions can come to an agreement, he said.

"We do not have travel bubbles with all the places which are lower-risk because that requires bilateral negotiations and agreement on both sides mutually. We continue to discuss these possibilities."