Many in Singapore set to go ahead with travel plans despite Omicron Covid-19 variant

Passengers waiting to check in at Changi Terminal 3. There are currently no disruptions to travel routes to the countries in the European bloc, Malaysia, Australia and Britain. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Travellers from Singapore making plans to visit countries under the VTL scheme are undeterred and ready to push on with their arrangements despite the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The variant has been pinpointed for the recent surge in infections in South Africa, and the World Health Organisation labelled it a variant of concern on Saturday (Nov 27) as preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant.

Given that there are no disruptions at the moment to travel routes to the countries in the European bloc, Malaysia, Australia and Britain, many travellers and players in the travel sector are adopting a wait-and-see stance as more information on the variant emerges.

Housewife Ku Xie Mei, 43, is going ahead with her trip to her Malaysian hometown on Dec 7 despite her concerns about the Omicron variant.

"I have not been to Melaka for two years now, and, although I am worried about the new variant, I have to visit my mother as she has been diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer and liver failure," said Ms Ku, now a Singapore citizen.

She will be flying to Kuala Lumpur with her son, and hopes to spend 15 days with her ailing mother.

There have been no reports of Omicron being detected in Malaysia so far, although in the Asia-Pacific, the variant has been picked up in Hong Kong and Australia.

Singapore bus company Transtar, one of two bus operators designated to carry out trips in the Singapore-Malaysia land VTL, told The Straits Times that ticket sales on Sunday were not impacted by news of the new variant.

Demand for bus tickets on Sunday has remained similar since Thursday, the first day tickets went on sale, a spokesman said while declining to share sales figures.

Handal Indah, the Malaysian bus company operating the same route, said it has sold a total of 23,000 bus tickets since sales begin on Thursday - about 16,000 for trips from Singapore to Malaysia, and 6,000 in the other direction.

Asked if concerns over the Omicron variant had hit ticket sales, the company said: "We did not experience a decrease in demand on Sunday as people are still progressively booking their tickets."

Travel agencies here said they did not receive calls or requests for cancellations on Sunday from customers who are due to go overseas soon.

Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing and communications manager at Chan Brothers Travel, said: "At this moment, we have not received any calls of concerns or requests for cancellation from our customers for our Europe VTL package tours.

"We have received a couple of calls of concerns from customers booked on our Australia package tours due to change of quarantine requirements by the Australian authorities," he said.

Australia announced on Saturday that vaccinated international travellers to the states of New South Wales and Victoria must self-isolate for at least 72 hours in light of the new variant.

Scoot said it had no confirmed cancellations of flights as at 4pm on Sunday.

Spokesmen for Singapore Airlines and Scoot said there were no changes to their flight schedules to Malaysia, Australia, the United Kingdom or Europe at present.

A Scoot spokesman said: "As more information is needed on the transmissibility and implications of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, we are unable to comment on its impact at this early stage. Scoot will continue to monitor the situation as guided by the authorities."

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One traveller who is uncertain about her plans is Ms Joyce Tan, 62, who was making arrangements to travel to the United States to visit her brother in mid-December.

"It's a totally different environment that we're travelling in now, with a lot more arrangements that have to be made... Since I have made all these arrangements, I will avoid withdrawing from the trip voluntarily," Ms Tan, a secretary, said.

She added that she will follow any appropriate advisory issued closer to her travelling date.

"Even before the Omicron variant was discovered, when I booked my flight, I was prepared that I would have to drop all my travel plans if the VTL was closed," she added.

  • Additional reporting by Ng Keng Gene.

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