Singapore to extend VTLs to 6 more countries, including Thailand and Cambodia

Travellers from Thailand (left) may enter Singapore under the VTL from Dec 14, while those from Cambodia (right) can do so from Dec 16. PHOTOS: AFP

SINGAPORE - Travellers from Thailand, Cambodia, Fiji, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Turkey will be able to enter Singapore quarantine-free from the middle of next month, with the launch of six new vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs), the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said on Friday (Nov 26).

This will take the total number of air VTLs announced so far to 27.

Pre-pandemic, these 27 countries contributed to about 60 per cent of the total daily arrivals at Changi Airport, CAAS said.

The new travel lanes will further broaden Changi's network and help reclaim and rebuild Singapore's status as an international aviation hub with global connectivity, CAAS added.

Travellers from Thailand may enter Singapore under the VTL from Dec 14. Applications for vaccinated travel passes under the travel lane will open on Dec 7 at 10am.

Travellers from Cambodia, Fiji, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Turkey may enter Singapore under the VTL from Dec 16, and they can start to apply for travel passes from 10am on Dec 9.

With the launch of the six new VTLs, the daily quota of travellers allowed to enter Singapore under the VTL scheme will also be raised from 10,000 to 15,000.

This quota is about a third of the total pre-Covid-19 flows from the 27 countries that have established VTLs with Singapore, Transport Minister S. Iswaran told reporters at a virtual briefing on Friday.

"This is a further calibrated expansion of the VTL scheme to reconnect Singapore with the world while managing the public health risk," he said.

Under the VTL scheme, fully vaccinated travellers from VTL countries may enter Singapore without quarantine and just need to undergo Covid-19 testing.

Children aged 12 years and below in the calendar year who are not vaccinated will be allowed to travel under the VTL into Singapore if they are accompanied by a VTL traveller who meets all VTL requirements.

Cambodia, Fiji, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Turkey are all in Category 2 of the Ministry of Health's Covid-19 risk classification for border measures, and have similar or lower Covid-19 infection rates than Singapore and the other VTL countries, CAAS said.

Thailand will be reclassified as Category 2 from Dec 1.

Cambodia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have already opened their borders to quarantine-free general travel for vaccinated travellers.

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Fully vaccinated travellers from Singapore have been able to travel to Thailand without quarantine since Nov 1 and to Cambodia since Nov 15.

Turkey has also already opened its borders to quarantine-free vaccinated travel from Singapore. The extension of the VTL scheme to the country will enable Singapore to connect with another major aviation hub, CAAS added.

Meanwhile, Fiji will be reopening its borders to vaccinated travellers from Singapore and 39 other countries from Dec 1.

From next Monday (Nov 29), air VTLs with Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, India, Sweden and Finland will also begin.

Three more VTLs, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, will start on Dec 6, with applications to start on Nov 29.

However, a new Covid-19 variant called B.1.1.529, which is said to be more infectious than the Delta strain and more resistant to current vaccines, has cast a pallor over the reopening of borders here.

From 23.59pm on Nov 27, all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter Singapore or transit here, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday.

The new travel ban, which will last for an initial four weeks, will also apply to those who have obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.

Singapore citizens and permanent residents returning from these seven southern African nations will be subjected to a 10-day stay-home notice at a dedicated facility, MOH added.

Mr Iswaran said the travel restrictions in the light of the new variant are an important precaution, but did not comment on the impact the new strain will have on the reopening of borders.

"We now need to give time for the exact characteristics of this new variant to be better understood," he said.

"This is exactly why we have emphasised from the very beginning... that we must be vigilant, because the situation and circumstances may change very quickly, including and possibly because of a new variant of concern."

He said the VTL schemes are designed with multiple safeguards - vaccination, proof of vaccination in the form of digitally verifiable vaccination certificates, pre-departure and on-arrival testing, as well as a quota on travellers arriving here under the scheme each day.

This enables the authorities to calibrate the risk in accordance with prevailing assessments, he said.

"Even as we continue to reopen our borders to secure Singapore's position as a business and aviation hub, we will closely monitor the global public health situation especially for the emergence of any new variants of concern and impose additional safeguards as necessary," the minister added.

"I would also urge all Singaporeans and residents to closely track the situation in the countries they are visiting, to be well informed and updated on the latest public health and border measures, and to plan well ahead for contingencies."

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