Parliament: Coronavirus

Travel with fewer curbs could be possible from early Sept

Singapore aims to have about 80% of its population fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by that time

The departure hall at Changi Airport's Terminal 3 last month. Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, said that in the near future, Singapore will begin reopening its borders for vaccinated people
The departure hall at Changi Airport's Terminal 3 last month. Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, said that in the near future, Singapore will begin reopening its borders for vaccinated people to travel. ST FILE PHOTO

Overseas travel with fewer restrictions could become a reality after early September, when Singapore aims to get about 80 per cent of its population fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

By that time, larger groups may also be allowed to congregate, especially if they are fully vaccinated, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament yesterday.

In a statement outlining the country's plans for tackling Covid-19 in the near future, he said Singapore will begin reopening its borders for vaccinated people to travel.

"We will start by establishing travel corridors with countries or regions that have managed Covid-19 well, and where the infection is similarly under control."

With these arrangements in place, fully vaccinated individuals will be able to travel without needing to serve the full 14-day stay-home notice (SHN) in a hotel.

Instead, they will simply be subject to a rigorous testing regimen or serve a shortened seven-day SHN at home, depending on the risk level of the country they visit, Mr Wong said.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second vaccine dose. People who are not vaccinated will still be able to travel, but must abide by the prevailing restrictions.

Looking further ahead, Singapore will carry out a series of "progressive easings", keeping a close eye on hospitalisation rates and intensive care unit admissions as it does so.

Coronavirus cases are likely to rise when the rules are eased, Mr Wong said, due in part to ongoing "cryptic" transmissions in the community, which can cause new clusters with increased activity levels.

Singapore is also likely to see more imported cases once people are able to travel more freely, with infected individuals "slipping through from time to time".

But at that stage, the main focus will no longer be on daily case numbers but on the small number of infected people who need supplementary oxygen or intensive care, Mr Wong said, adding that more details will be revealed at a later date.

Moving forward, testing will play a key role in the country's efforts to treat the virus as endemic, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

The Government plans to increase the number of quick test centres, where people working in higher-risk settings can walk in to get tested, he added.

In his statement, Mr Wong also explained why the task force "made the difficult decision" to return to phase two (heightened alert) - a move that has drawn criticism from some quarters.

He noted how the large clusters that formed in recent weeks show how easy it is for the Delta variant of the coronavirus to spread and potentially overwhelm Singapore's hospital system.

Vaccinated individuals may experience very mild symptoms when infected, inadvertently becoming asymptomatic carriers. "By the time the cases pop up, days or even weeks would have passed and the infection would have spread to many people," he said.

Facing the risk of widespread community transmission before enough people attained adequate vaccine protection, Singapore thus decided to tighten the rules.

Stressing that vaccination remains the key to further reopening, Mr Wong said: "I make a special plea to all who remain un-vaccinated or have not registered to be vaccinated, especially our parents and grandparents: Please come forward."

Mr Ong said Singaporeans' thoughts on living with Covid-19 fall into two broad categories.

Younger, vaccinated individuals feel that those who are vaccinated should be allowed to enjoy more social activities. On the other hand, a sizeable segment of older Singaporeans who have yet to be vaccinated - for medical or other reasons - remains.

Differentiated measures for vaccinated people are necessary for public health reasons, especially to protect the unvaccinated, Mr Ong said.

He pointed out that Singapore is one of the few countries to have come through the last 20 months with very few fatalities, and is unique even among countries and regions that have access to vaccines.

Some countries - such as the United States and Britain - went through major episodes of widespread transmission, while others - such as Australia and New Zealand - kept the pandemic under control, but are now finding it difficult to get their people vaccinated.

"This will make us perhaps the only country in the world which has not suffered a collapse of our hospitals nor a high death toll, and at the same time achieved a very high vaccination rate in our population," he said.

"This uniqueness is due to the unity of our people, the trust amongst them, and between people and Government."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2021, with the headline Travel with fewer curbs could be possible from early Sept. Subscribe