Singapore to pilot quarantine-free business travel

The short-term travellers will have to stay, work and meet at dedicated facilities here

Those using the lane will be transported from the airport to dedicated facilities where they will stay and work. PHOTO: ST FILE

Short-term business travellers from all countries will be able to stay, work and meet at dedicated facilities here from mid-January, without the need for prior quarantine, as efforts get under way to draw them back to Singapore.

Those who opt to use the arrangement - likely the first of its kind in the world - will be transported from the airport to large dedicated facilities equipped with self-service food and beverage options and gym pods.

There, they can have meetings through floor-to-ceiling air-tight glass panels with local businessmen and businessmen from other countries, with safe distancing measures in place.

"Global business travel has been severely affected by the need for quarantine measures... Different countries will continue to have different risk profiles, and we should not let this hinder business meetings," Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said while on a tour of Connect@Changi yesterday, one of the facilities that will be used to house travellers in the segregated travel lane.

"Dedicated facilities can allow Singaporeans to meet (business) travellers from elsewhere. They can also allow (business) travellers from elsewhere to meet one another."

Regular Covid-19 testing will be conducted throughout the duration of their stay - for instance, on alternate days - in addition to tests before departure from their home countries and upon arrival here.

They will also have to move within the facility in their pre-declared travel group of up to five people to reduce the risk of mass transmission.

The segregated travel lane is distinct from existing reciprocal green lane arrangements, which apply only to selected countries but allow those on essential business here to move around Singapore more freely.

The new scheme is expected to increase traffic at Changi Airport, where about 15 per cent of travellers pre-Covid-19 entered the country for business-related reasons.

It should also have knock-on effects on the hospitality sector, which could cater food and provide accommodation for the travellers once they are given approval, although restrictions in travellers' movements mean the impact could be limited.

Analysts, however, said the move has a larger symbolic effect and will boost confidence in Sin-gapore's status as a business hub, especially with the World Economic Forum set to take place here next year.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said: "We have fallen a long way from our peak, so these calculated steps to ease restrictions all go towards helping as many people as possible to claw back some business. The more we can reassure business travellers, the better."

An artist's impression of Connect@ Changi's courtyard. PHOTO: CONNECT@ CHANGI

Based on patterns established last year, roughly nine in 10 of business travellers to Singapore stayed in the country for five days or fewer, hinting at the demand for such expedited, business-specific travel arrangements.

Many of these travellers are currently not covered by reciprocal green lane arrangements and have to undergo quarantine before they can meet their local partners face to face.

Meeting rooms can fit between four and 22 people, and are meant for meetings rather than larger-scale conferences or events. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Connect@Changi is a four-star facility currently being built at Singapore Expo and Max Atria, about a five-minute drive from Changi Airport.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry will study the demand for the segregated travel lane to assess the number of dedicated facilities needed, and could broaden the use of the lane for medical or family-visiting uses.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2020, with the headline Singapore to pilot quarantine-free business travel. Subscribe