ST exclusive: S'pore may allow leisure travel by year end; US, EU, HK among likely locations, says Ong Ye Kung

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung shared the hope that travelling for leisure will soon be a viable option before the end of 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans keen to travel abroad for leisure may soon get to do so to places like the United States, Hong Kong and some parts of the European Union, where vaccination rates are rising.

This was a possibility sketched out by Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (July 1) in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times' senior health correspondent Salma Khalik, in which he shared the hope that travelling for leisure will be a viable option before the end of 2021.

He said: "Once a place's (Covid-19) infection rate is going down, vaccinations are going up and you go below, say, two or three infections per 100,000, we should start monitoring those countries seriously."

In the US, the rate of Covid-19 infections has declined quickly for two months but levelled off since mid-June, thanks to localised spikes in undervaccinated regions of the country, data on Monday showed. This comes as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to gain traction, poised to soon become the dominant strain among US cases.

The seven-day average of new daily cases in the US has hovered at around 11,500 since June 16, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, or about 3.5 per 100,000 people. About 47.2 per cent of the population have already been fully vaccinated as at June 30.

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When asked if the possibility of a Hong Kong travel arrangement was now back on the cards, Mr Ong said that both cities are now in a good position to relook it. These arrangements have been deferred twice.

"Fundamentally, both of us are more or less in a good place now, and both of us are vaccinating our people," he said.

"We're going to call it the air travel corridor from now on. The word bubble is a bit of a jinx, I think," he added. Earlier in May, the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble burst for the second time, following rising community Covid-19 cases in the Republic.

Singaporeans keen to travel abroad for leisure may soon get to do so to places like Hong Kong (left) and the United States. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

Eager Singaporeans ready to fly to Phuket - which has just opened its doors to international travellers on July 1 - will still have to serve stay-home notice when they return.

"When we differentiate between countries that are safer and countries that are risky, it is less to do with their own rules... but to do with their general infection rates, vaccination rates, their control measures, testing and all their non-pharmaceutical interventions," Mr Ong said.

Phuket opened its doors to its first international travellers under a quarantine-free scheme on July 1 in a bid to save its vital tourism industry.

However, the launch of this scheme comes as Thailand grapples with its worst Covid-19 wave and the worrying detection of the Alpha and Delta variants. Thailand reported on July 1 a daily record of 57 deaths from the virus.

Read more from ST's exclusive interview with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung:
- S'pore could ease dining in rules from July 12 under 3-step plan
- Getting Covid-19 could soon mean an MC, isolation and self tests
- Masks to remain key even in new normal
- Perks for those vaccinated not meant to be discriminatory
- 'Sleep, exercise, work, eat': Ong Ye Kung on life amid Covid-19
- Vaccination rate needed to keep Singapore safe from Covid-19

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