askST: What is a valid pre-departure ART and how can I book one overseas?

Returning Singapore residents have to undergo an on-arrival PCR at Changi Airport or an exit PCR test after serving their SHN. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - As of 11.59pm on Thursday (Nov 11), most travellers can take an antigen rapid test (ART) performed by a trained professional overseas before flying into Singapore.

This applies to those returning via the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) and from countries in Categories II and III, which include Australia, Britain and the United States.

Previously, all travellers, except those aged two and below, had to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to return and test negative within 48 hours before departure.

Travellers now have a longer window to take the tests as a pre-departure test taken any time on Nov 12, for instance, can be valid until 11.59pm on Nov 14.

Here is what you need to know about the new measures and how to book an ART overseas.

Q: What is a pre-departure Covid-19 test? Do I need to take a test before leaving Singapore and upon arrival?

A: The pre-departure Covid-19 test refers to the test travellers take so that they can present results to airline staff at overseas airports before returning to Singapore.

As for the test Singapore residents must undergo for most destinations before leaving the Republic, it is recommended that they check the websites of the immigration authorities or embassies of the destination country beforehand.

Travellers can also consult Sherpa - a travel data aggregator that provides information on the destination country's restrictions, and requirements for visa application and additional documents. More information can be found at the Sherpa website.

Under the VTL, not all countries require travellers from Singapore to take a PCR test before they can enter.

For instance, France and Britain do not require one for vaccinated travellers, but others such as the Netherlands, which reclassified Singapore from a low-risk to a very high-risk country on Thursday, will require testing.

When Singapore residents return to the Republic, they still have to undergo an on-arrival PCR at Changi Airport or an exit PCR test after serving their stay-home notice, depending on which country they return from.

Q: Why is the Government allowing us to take ART now before returning from these countries?

A: The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Monday (Nov 8) that changes in border measures are aligned with the Covid-19 testing protocols in place in Singapore.

Professor Dale Fisher, a senior consultant at the National University Hospital's Division of Infectious Diseases, said that as global travel resumes, requiring all those returning to take a PCR test will be increasingly challenging in terms of logistical arrangements.

Prof Fisher, who is also chair of the World Health Organisation's Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, said: "In 2019, Changi Airport served 68.3 million passengers, which (averages out to) 187,000 per day. Other airports, which have similar volume, may not have the infrastructure to support so many PCR tests.

"Imposing such a test will mean taking away time from GPs or trained professionals and putting more demand on Covid-19 laboratories than they can handle."

Q: In what form must my pre-departure ART result take?

A: According to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, the test must be taken within two days before departure at an internationally accredited or recognised laboratory, clinic or medical facility.

The result certificate must be in English and contain the date and time of when the Covid-19 test was taken. It must also bear the name of the testing institution conducting the Covid-19 test.

The pre-departure ART must be taken within two days before departure at an internationally accredited or recognised laboratory, clinic or medical facility. PHOTO: AFP

Self-administered ARTs are not allowed.

In some countries, medical providers will issue ART results via e-mail, while others, such as Denmark, have a centralised website where test results can be downloaded or printed.

The Straits Times understands that airports generally accept both printed and digital results.

In response to queries from ST, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said its website and mobile app have been enhanced to verify digital health credentials and perform entry rule checks.

SIA said: "Customers can generate their own boarding passes through these channels if no other travel documents are required, eliminating the need for physical verification at airports."

Q: Where can I take a pre-departure ART?

A: MOH has a list of clinics for travel from countries such as Malaysia and South Korea. Both have VTL arrangements with Singapore that will start later this month.

For travellers who prefer visiting a familiar clinic, Fullerton Health said that corporate clients registered under its Fullerton One programme can visit any of its clinics in five Asian markets, including the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong, while travelling overseas.

A Raffles Medical Group spokesman told ST that customers can visit its clinics for certified tests in Vietnam, where ARTs are allowed for pre-departure.

With a wider testing window, it is also not necessary to take the ART at the airport, although you can do so at some locations such as Heathrow Airport in Britain and Los Angeles International Airport in the United States.

It is possible to take a test at some attractions such as Disneyland Paris and the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.

Q: Should I engage a travel booking company to arrange a test?

A: With the Covid-19 situation constantly changing, travel agencies may be able to advise customers on the different requirements of various countries.

For instance, although Singapore accepts a pre-departure ART, countries such as South Korea and Australia still require a PCR test.

Booking platform Klook said its listings include information about the opening hours of the service provider and the expected time taken for the ART or PCR results.

Mr Aaron Wong, 33, who runs travel website The MileLion, said the waiting time for such tests can fluctuate greatly.

While visiting Munich, Germany, via the VTL on two occasions, he waited five minutes in line the first time but had to wait for 90 minutes on his second trip.

Mr Steven Ler, executive director of UOB Travel Planners, said: "Buying a pre-departure test as part of a bundle makes it easier for employees going on a work trip.

"It saves them the hassle of having to submit receipts to their company for reimbursement. And this will also greatly benefit leisure travellers who prefer a coordinated arrangement."

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