SINGAPORE - Airlines will no longer be allowed to sell new vaccinated travel lane (VTL) flight tickets for travel into Singapore from Thursday (Dec 23) until Jan 20, as the country tightens its borders amid a rising number of imported Covid-19 cases.
The suspension of sales also applies to those travelling on the Singapore-Malaysia land VTL.
But eligible travellers who have earlier bought tickets will still be allowed to travel via the quarantine-free travel scheme.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced the new border measures on Wednesday. The move - the biggest setback in Singapore's attempt to reopen its borders so far - comes as the number of imported cases hit a new high since the emergence of the Omicron variant.
“Our border measures will help to buy us time to study and understand the Omicron variant, and to strengthen our defences, including enhancing our healthcare capacity and getting more people vaccinated and boosted,” the ministry said.
The authorities will also temporarily reduce VTL quotas and ticket sales for travel after Jan 20, in another move to limit exposure to imported Omicron cases.
The VTL scheme allows fully vaccinated travellers from selected countries to enter Singapore without having to serve quarantine. This facilitates quarantine-free travel to countries which have earlier opened up to Singapore.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said it will cap total ticket sales on VTL flights into Singapore at 50 per cent of the allocated quota from Jan 21.
Additional precautions will also be put in place to protect the aviation community, it added.
First, all airport workers who interact with arriving passengers, including those working in public areas such as taxi stands, will have to wear more personal protective equipment. This includes N95 masks and face shields.
Second, all front-line airport workers will minimally be placed on seven-day polymerase chain reaction (PCR) rostered routine testing, instead of the current seven-day antigen rapid test (ART) routine testing cycle.
In addition, for higher risk front-line airport workers, there will be an employer-supervised ART on the third day of their seven-day PCR testing cycle. This will also apply for Singapore air crew.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Transport Minister S. Iswaran reiterated that those who have already bought VTL flight tickets and meet VTL requirements will still be able to travel to Singapore without quarantine.
“I understand that some might be disappointed by these changes to the VTL scheme, but it is an essential and prudent measure to protect public health,” he said.
“It is crucial that we tighten our safeguards when warranted by the public health risk assessment, to protect the health and safety of our fellow Singaporeans, front-line aviation workers and travellers.”
MOH also said that travellers entering Singapore under the VTL scheme will face stricter enforcement.
All VTL travellers must test negative on their self-administered ART before going out for activities each day. The only exception is on day three and day seven of their arrival, when travellers must undergo supervised testing at a testing centre before going about their activities.
As at Monday, there were 71 confirmed Omicron cases detected in Singapore, with 65 imported cases and six local cases. The MOH has said that given Omicron's high transmissibility and spread to many parts of the world, Singapore should expect to find more Omicron cases at our borders and also within our community.
Worldwide, several countries have tightened both border and local restrictions in the face of the Omicron variant.
For example, Italy has raised its Covid-19 risk assessment of Singapore, and has thus banned tourists flying over from the Republic.