SINGAPORE - Changi Airport's Terminals 1 and 3 opened their doors to the public for the first time in more than 100 days, ahead of the start of eased border measures for vaccinated travellers.
More than 80 per cent of the stores at Terminal 1 and 3 restarted operations on Wednesday (Sept 1), with the rest expected to reopen soon, putting an end to the closures prompted by a Covid-19 cluster in May.
While the airport was closed to the public for more than three months, flights had continued to take off and land, although at a much-reduced scale. Only 204,000 passengers passed through its gates in July, compared with 5.91 million in the comparable month of July 2019, before Covid-19 had hit.
With traffic expected to gradually pick up, extra precautions have been put in place, like the segregation of the dining areas in Basement 2 of Terminal 3 to reduce interactions between airport staff and the public during mealtimes.
Members of the public are also not allowed in the arrival hall, to avoid direct contact between them and arriving passengers.
The airport's reopening to the public coincides with the expected increase in travellers to Singapore in the coming months, as the Republic moves to open gradually its borders and revive its air hub.
A travel lane for vaccinated travellers from Germany and Brunei will start on Sept 8, and allow vaccinated travellers from these countries to come into Singapore without quarantine, if they take and clear several Covid-19 tests.
Singapore has also unilaterally eased border restrictions for travellers from places such as Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, allowing them to go about their activities if they test negative for Covid-19 upon arrival.
Further easing of border measures could be on the cards, with the Republic having reached the milestone of having 80 per cent of its population fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday that reopening borders is key to preserving Singapore's position as a business hub.
Aviation analyst Shukor Yusof from Endau Analytics noted, however, that while the reopening of the airport is good optics, it will not alter the reality that the world is still under siege from the virus.
"Singapore is doing whatever it can, but the wider world is still dysfunctional when it comes to Covid-19 coordination and containment," he said.
"Even if everyone in Singapore is fully vaccinated, it doesn't mean life will go back to normal."
Airport staff, however, were relieved they can now return to work.
Ms Pamela Loo-Song, director of retail and local sales division at Focus Network Agencies, which runs chocolate retailer The Cocoa Trees and has stores at the airport, said: "There was some anxiety about whether the airport would really reopen… as I was walking to the store today, it did feel very surreal."
Ms Izzul Faqihah, 27, store manager at Ichikokudo Hokkaido Ramen at T3, hoped customers would feel safe enough to return once they learnt there were no more cases.
Staff at T3 who spoke to The Straits Times said they were not worried about the Covid-19 situation at the airport, given the increased precautions. But one worker at a clothing store, who declined to be named, said she had been hoping she would not be asked to return to the airport.
"My colleagues and I don't want to come here as we are worried about Covid-19, and I feel that other places would be safer," she said.
"I am a bit worried… I will use hand sanitiser regularly."
Some workers said they expect crowds to also return with the start of the September school holidays next week.
A clothing shop employee, who wanted to be known only as Ms Yang, said the airport was quieter than usual on a weekday morning, but she hoped it would recover as more people came to know about the reopening.
She added that she was happy to return to work at the airport after more than three months of being redeployed at the chain's other outlets.
"I have been working at the airport for about nine years now, so it's a familiar place for me," she said.
"There are also a lot of food places here that I like."
Changi Airport Group senior vice-president for landside concessions James Fong said the airport has disinfected all the stores and all workers have tested negative for Covid-19 in recent days.
He acknowledged that some people might still be concerned about the risk of Covid-19 infection at the airport after the T3 Covid-19 cluster in May.
The cluster grew to 108 cases, 43 of whom were airport workers.
But Mr Fong said the airport has already taken thorough measures to keep the public safe.
He added: "The vaccination strategy… has helped us and now we are working closely with the Government to reopen the borders again, so all this gives us optimism."