SINGAPORE - International travel will not revert to normal even after everyone in Singapore has been vaccinated as travel depends on the global Covid-19 situation, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
When it does resume, it is likely to take place progressively, through bilateral arrangements, which could then expand into regional arrangements, he added.
"This is a bit like a circuit breaker," said Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministerial task force handling the crisis. "It's not going to be, flip a switch and (it's) free for everybody to travel."
He was responding to a question on whether Singaporeans can expect to travel in the next 12 months during a press conference to mark one year of Singapore's battle with Covid-19.
Education Minister Lawrence Wong, the task force's other co-chair, acknowledged that many people hope that vaccination will allow them to travel without quarantine restrictions.
But at present, Singapore is still studying the evidence and is not yet ready to change the rules, he said.
In any case, Singapore is likely to be in "pandemic mode" for the next 12 to 18 months even if certain safe distancing measures are eased in that time, Mr Wong added.
"Even if the majority of people in Singapore get vaccinated, it's impossible for the world to be vaccinated by this year," he said. "Which means that all around us, there will be countries where the virus may very well still be raging."
He also pointed out that the International Air Transport Association has predicted that passenger volumes are not expected to return to pre-coronavirus levels until at least 2024.
"The whole recovery is not a one-year issue... it's more like a four-year affair before you see some of these industries recovering back to where they were before," Mr Wong said.
"So that's the picture for aviation and travel, and we have to be realistic that this is what it is, and it will have some impact on our own industries, particularly those that are reliant on aviation and tourism."
At some point - perhaps over the next four to five years - the pandemic will pass and the economy will slowly recover, Mr Wong added.
But Mr Gan cautioned that the next pandemic could take place in that time. He urged Singaporeans to keep up the good hygiene habits they developed over the past year, adding: "Before we celebrate... you have to always be vigilant that the next pandemic is just a short distance away."