New rules for visitors in the works as Singapore opens up air travel

Such measures could include stringent and repeated testing protocol for visitors here and close tracking of their movements.
Such measures could include stringent and repeated testing protocol for visitors here and close tracking of their movements.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

To encourage visitors to Singapore while protecting the country against Covid-19, new requirements for travellers like stringent and repeated testing protocols are being planned in lieu of a two-week stay-home notice period.

Yesterday, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung also set out other steps that Singapore will take to open up its borders and revive air travel - from negotiating travel bubbles to unilaterally lifting border restrictions on safe countries and regions to continued pursuit of reciprocal green lane arrangements.

In a ministerial statement on aviation recovery in Parliament, Mr Ong said Singapore's status as an aviation hub and its superior air connectivity are essential to the economy.

The current stay-home notice rule is a deterrent to potential travellers, he acknowledged, but assured the House that the Government is exploring ways to facilitate their arrival while managing the risk of virus infection.

This is especially important for travellers from countries that are economically important to Singapore but have higher infection rates, said the minister.

It would also benefit people who need to come here for purposes like reuniting with a long-separated partner or on compassionate grounds.

"The message we want to send to the world is this - Singapore has started to reopen its borders. In the near future, if you have the virus under control and infection rates are as low as Singapore's, you are welcome to visit us, but travellers will be subject to a Covid-19 test as a precaution," said Mr Ong. "If you are from a place where infection rates are higher than Singapore's, you can also visit us, so long as you agree to conditions such as testing, segregation and contact tracing."

These new requirements will work in tandem with upcoming arrangements like air travel bubbles with safe countries and regions, where general travellers need not stick to a controlled itinerary.

The risks with these bubbles can be further managed by setting a quota for the number of travellers a day, and ensuring everyone gets tested for Covid-19, Mr Ong said.

Travellers will have to apply for air travel passes before their journeys, to allow Singapore to plan for their arrival and reduce the numbers if the epidemic situation changes.

Hong Kong has announced its intention to establish such bubbles with several nations, including Singapore, Mr Ong noted. "We have responded positively. We hope to commence discussions with Hong Kong and other partners soon."

Singapore will also continue to pursue reciprocal green lane arrangements, where travellers are tested before departure and on arrival to ensure they do not carry the virus. They will also have controlled itineraries to minimise the risk of community spread. So far, Singapore has such arrangements with Brunei, China, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea, noted Mr Ong.

It will continue to facilitate transfers at Changi too. Traditionally, about a quarter of passenger volumes at the airport are transfers, said the minister.

Since June, about 27,000 passengers have transferred safely through Singapore, and there are now about 2,500 transfer passengers weekly. Mr Ong said these numbers are expected to rise, adding: "We have put in place robust safeguards and no Singaporean has become ill as a result of these transfers."

Singapore should also be prepared to lift its border restrictions to countries and regions that are deemed safe, he said. "Purely from an infection risk point of view, the risk of a traveller from these places carrying the virus when they arrive at Changi Airport is no higher than that of a Singapore resident coming from Jurong or Sembawang."

But as a precaution, these travellers will be tested for Covid-19 .

Singapore unilaterally opened its borders to travellers from Brunei and New Zealand last month, and more recently to those from Vietnam and Australia - excluding the state of Victoria.

While he does not expect to see large numbers of travellers from those countries in the short term, Mr Ong said such unilateral openings are still meaningful because they act as a standing invitation.

He cited Britain, which currently allows Singaporeans to travel there unilaterally without quarantine.

As Britain's rate of Covid-19 infection remains quite high, the Republic still advises against Singaporeans going there, and is also not ready to allow travellers from there to come here freely, he noted. "But we appreciate the UK's standing invitation. So once their infection rate falls and becomes comparable to ours, we will lift restrictions quickly, which will effectively restore travel between our countries," Mr Ong said.

In outlining these plans, he noted that borders are still closed in most parts of the world.

"For Members who are hoping to hear announcements on some air travel resumption and even possible December holiday destinations, I am sorry I will disappoint you," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2020, with the headline 'New rules for visitors in the works as S'pore opens up air travel'. Print Edition | Subscribe