Coronavirus Multi-ministry Taskforce update

Minister: We are ready to open borders further, but with safeguards in place

Travellers queueing to enter a transit holding area at Changi Airport. Education Minister Lawrence Wong said Singapore is keen on discussing air travel bubbles with places that have a similar Covid-19 incidence rate as Singapore, or are safe and low-
Travellers queueing to enter a transit holding area at Changi Airport. Education Minister Lawrence Wong said Singapore is keen on discussing air travel bubbles with places that have a similar Covid-19 incidence rate as Singapore, or are safe and low-risk. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

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 yesterday.

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 a country Singapore is in discussions on reopening travel with has a similar incidence rate of Covid-19 infection as Singapore, allowing its travellers testing in place 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 a 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 wearing an electronic monitoring device," he said.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the Multi-ministry Taskforce tackling the coronavirus, was responding to questions from reporters on Singapore reopening its borders, including for travellers from jurisdictions such as South-east Asian countries, Taiwan and Macau.

At yesterday's press conference, the task force announced that all inbound travellers from high-risk places who are not Singapore citizens or permanent residents will also 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 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. 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.

Mr Wong said the requirements are "where it is now", and could 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."

Mr Wong added that Singapore is keen on discussing air travel bubbles with places that have a similar Covid-19 incidence rate as Singapore, or are safe and low-risk. Singapore has a travel bubble arrangement with Hong Kong that is expected to kick off 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2020, with the headline 'Minister: We are ready to open borders further, but with safeguards in place'. Print Edition | Subscribe