SINGAPORE - The unilateral reopening of borders to Brunei and New Zealand is a "small, cautious" step that can resuscitate Changi Airport.
It is also an invitation to the world that Singapore is open for business, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (Aug 21).
"The aviation sector, Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines do not just concern the sector itself, but are linked to the whole economy," he said.
"So we need to really start to take steps to open up in a safe manner that can revive Changi Airport and resuscitate the aviation sector."
The multi-ministry task force battling the Covid-19 outbreak said on Friday it is relaxing Singapore's border controls so that visitors from Brunei or New Zealand who have remained in their country in the last consecutive 14 days prior to their visit to Singapore will not have to serve a stay-home notice when they arrive.
However, they will need to take a Covid-19 test upon their arrival at the airport, and be allowed to go about their activities in Singapore only after receiving a negative test result.
Mr Ong said both countries have been able to control the Covid-19 outbreak, with infection rates well with below 0.1 infections per 100,000 people in their population.
He also said the number of travellers coming from both countries would be manageable.
There are only two flights weekly that can fly a maximum total of 500 passengers from Brunei to Singapore, said Mr Ong.
For New Zealand, there are four flights weekly that can fly a total of about 1,200 passengers.
Mr Ong said their low infection rates and the testing upon arrival combined means "a very, very, low risk that we can manage", he said.
"I believe we can strike a good balance between keeping Singapore and travellers here safe, as well as reviving the air traffic sector."
Various aviation sector stakeholders welcomed the announcement.
The Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group - which comprises SIA, SilkAir and Scoot - said the recovery of air travel and airfreight is a necessary catalyst for the recovery of global trade and economies severely impacted by Covid-19.
It added that it accounted for more than half of the passengers flying in and out of Changi Airport in the last financial year. It will continue to monitor the demand for international air travel, and adjust its capacity accordingly.
Changi Airport Group spokesman Ivan Tan said the announcement is an encouraging start to what the airport hopes will be a gradual resumption of air travel to and from Singapore.
He added that ensuring the health and safety of staff and visitors will remain the airport's priority.
"We look forward to welcoming tourists and leisure visitors to Singapore again, and promise a smooth and comfortable airport experience for all of them," he said.
Mr Alex Hungate, president and chief executive of ground handling firm Sats, also said that it will work with partners to ensure a safe arrangement for both employees and travellers.
"In this way, we hope to help restore confidence in air travel while ensuring that Changi experience remains the best in the world," he said.
On why Singapore took the initiative to introduce unilateral measures instead of waiting for a bilateral agreement, Mr Ong said openness has been a hallmark of Singapore's history.
He added that the move does not preclude the Republic from negotiating reciprocal agreements with like-minded partners or going a step further in upgrading such agreements.
On whether travellers from more countries can expect similar decisions soon, Mr Ong said Singapore will decide when and who to expand this to based on how countries control their outbreak.
A crucial part of the Singapore economy, the Changi air hub - which includes airlines, the airport and ground handling firms - contributes more than 5 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product and employs 192,000 people.
But like all other airports and airlines worldwide, Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines have been hard hit by travel restrictions aimed at curbing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Experts have noted that the recovery for Singapore's aviation sector will be more difficult given the lack of a domestic market here.
In July, Changi Airport had just 86,000 passengers passing through. This was a 98.5 per cent drop compared to the same time last year.
Meanwhile, industry group International Air Transport Association (Iata), which represents airlines worldwide, said that the opening of borders and the lifting of travel restrictions such as quarantine is the key to helping the aviation sector recover.
Iata regional vice-president for Asia-Pacific Conrad Clifford said: "We urge other states in the region to look at ways to resume international travel safely, including through the implementation of travel bubbles."