Budget debate: S'pore must sustain reopening momentum, 6 in 10 of pre-Covid-19 air links restored, says Iswaran

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SINGAPORE - Singapore must sustain its momentum in reopening its borders, with the world learning to live with Covid-19, said Transport Minister S. Iswaran on Wednesday (March 9).

He noted during his ministry's budget debate that Changi Airport is now linked to 58 per cent of cities it was connected to before the pandemic hit. Meanwhile, the number of flights passing through the airport has reached 38 per cent.

Passenger volume reached 15 per cent of pre-pandemic level in December last year, driven by the launch of the vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) for quarantine-free travel.

The Government aims to restore passenger volume to at least 50 per cent of the level before the pandemic this year, said Mr Iswaran.

Mr Iswaran noted that other aviation hubs, such as Dubai, Qatar and Istanbul, are already at up to 70 per cent of their pre-Covid-19 international passenger traffic.

"In our region, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines have announced plans to reopen their borders to all vaccinated travellers," he added.

"We now have the confidence and opportunity to move decisively."

Mr Iswaran, who was responding to questions from several MPs including Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas), Ms Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC) and Mr Dennis Tan (Hougang), said the reopening of borders and aviation recovery is the Transport Ministry's immediate priority.

He said the next phase of reopening borders will be a more fundamental shift from VTLs to vaccinated quarantine-free travel.

Singapore's aim is to allow all fully vaccinated travellers from places under the Health Ministry's low risk or general travel categories to enter the country without having to serve stay-home notice.

This will effectively reopen the country's borders to the rest of the world, said Mr Iswaran.

The Transport Ministry will work with the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 and the Health Ministry on the timing of the transition, which will depend on the Covid-19 situation, he added.

Mr Iswaran said the current situation is different from the initial stages of the pandemic when Singapore had to close its borders to protect public health.He attributed the difference to a better understanding of the virus, well-established safe management measures and high levels of vaccination against Covid-19 in Singapore.

Mr Iswaran added that Changi’s air connectivity anchors the Singapore economy.  “Many companies choose to be in Singapore because they can easily reach their customers and suppliers in our region and beyond,” he said.

“To lose Changi’s connectivity is to lose this key competitive advantage, and our livelihoods that depend on it.”

In response to a question from Ms Poh about the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Iswaran said it has already affected fuel prices. It could also impede the recovery of the global economy and international aviation. 

He said the Transport Ministry is monitoring the situation and will mount an appropriate response should the need arise. 

On Changi Airport’s Terminal 5 (T5), Mr Iswaran told Mr Yong and Mr Tan that the ministry will provide an update on the review in due course. He said that the Government has used a two-year pause in T5’s development to review its design in the light of the pandemic and increased sustainability ambition. 

“We are firm in our resolve that Changi must have the capacity and capability to seize opportunities from aviation growth, especially in Asia,” said Mr Iswaran. 

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