Singapore tightens restrictions on travellers from UK after emergence of new Covid-19 strain

Attendants at Changi Airport's Terminal 3 handling luggage belonging to passengers from a flight which arrived from London yesterday, as the passengers boarded buses that would take them to dedicated facilities to serve their stay-home notice.
Attendants at Changi Airport's Terminal 3 handling luggage belonging to passengers from a flight which arrived from London on Dec 22, 2020.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore has joined over 40 other countries in tightening restrictions on travellers arriving from the United Kingdom, following the emergence of a new coronavirus strain there that appears to be more contagious.

From 11.59pm on Wednesday (Dec 23), all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with travel history to the UK within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday.

This ban will also apply to all those who had obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.

Travellers from the UK are currently required to serve a 14-day stay-home notice at a dedicated facility.

As for returning Singaporeans and permanent residents, they will have to be tested on arrival, and again towards the end of their 14-day stay-home notices.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force combating Covid-19, told reporters on Tuesday that Singapore has been monitoring the situation in Britain very closely.

"We are concerned about the new strain," he said. "The preliminary assessment is that it is 70 per cent more infectious, which is significant, and therefore we think it is prudent to stop all incoming travellers from the UK during this period until we are able to learn more about this new strain of the virus."

He added that while precautions are already in place, Singapore decided on the new restrictions to reduce exposure from such arrivals as much as possible.

"We still need to understand, beyond the fact that it is more transmissible, whether it is going to lead to a more severe disease, or will there be other impact," he said.

"Having this additional precaution now is necessary and prudent, because of the uncertainty and the risk."

Many European countries, as well as Canada and Argentina, have banned flights from the UK. On Monday, Hong Kong stopped flights from the UK, while India's ban kicks in at midnight on Tuesday.

These actions come as the World Health Organisation cautioned against major alarm over the new strain, saying this was a normal part of a pandemic's evolution.

Countries imposing travel curbs were acting out of an abundance of caution while they assess risks, WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told an online briefing. "That is prudent. But it is also important that everyone recognises that this happens, these variants occur."

Mr Wong said the strain has yet to be detected in the Republic, but added Singapore has to stay vigilant and monitor how the strain is spreading, and constantly adjust measures at its borders and within the community.

MOH noted that the UK authorities are investigating whether the strain is associated with any change in disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. It added that it will evaluate the data as it emerges and review border measures accordingly.

In addition, short-term travellers holding an air travel pass with travel history to Australia's New South Wales state within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter Singapore from 11.59pm on Wednesday.

Singapore residents and long-term pass holders with such travel history will be subject to a seven-day stay-home notice.

The move follows a new cluster of cases in Sydney that led the state to impose a five-day lockdown in the Northern Beaches area, which is slated to end today and will be reviewed by the state.

Travellers from other parts of Australia will continue to be subject to a Covid-19 test on arrival in lieu of a stay-home notice.

The air travel pass scheme allows for all forms of short-term travel, including leisure travel. This is in contrast to reciprocal green lane arrangements between countries, which are usually for essential business and official travel.

Singapore Airlines said in a Facebook post that customers with bookings for flights departing from the UK with effect from Dec 23 will be affected by the new requirement.

It added that affected passengers will be notified of their travel options via text message, email or through the SingaporeAir mobile app.

"Please be assured that customers departing from the UK who had their flights cancelled or who no longer will be able to travel as they do not meet the entry requirements into Singapore will be covered by our global waiver travel policy. They may retain the value of their ticket as flight credits, rebook or seek a refund," the airline said.

Customers who bought their tickets through a travel agent are also covered by the travel waiver policy. They should contact their travel agent directly for assistance.

Those who wish to keep up to date with the measures may visit the SafeTravel website. 

MOH has reminded all travellers to accurately declare their travel history, adding that strict enforcement action will be taken against false declarations.

Additional reporting by Sue-Ann Tan