Travellers vaccinated against Covid-19 will next month be able to fly between Singapore and South Korea without quarantine, as the Republic moves to cautiously reopen its borders.
The Ministry of Transport (MOT) announced yesterday that Singapore and South Korea will jointly launch Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) between the two countries from Nov 15.
This is the first such arrangement that will let Singapore residents enjoy leisure travel within Asia without having to quarantine since the Covid-19 pandemic forced borders shut last year.
Travellers will have to take several Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction tests, in lieu of serving quarantine.
The move comes as other countries in Asia, such as Malaysia and India, prepare to reopen borders.
Experts and senior government figures have repeatedly said that Singapore will need to further reopen its borders soon in order to protect its position as both an air hub and a business hub.
The agreement for the Singapore-South Korea VTLs was marked by a videoconference yesterday between Transport Minister S. Iswaran and the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport of the Republic of Korea, Mr Noh Hyeong-ouk.
Mr Iswaran said both countries have made excellent progress in vaccinating their populations and the VTLs reflect the trust in each other's ability to manage the Covid-19 situation.
"This is another milestone as we reopen Singapore's borders, and resume air travel in a careful and calibrated manner."
Singapore and South Korea have also agreed on the mutual recognition of Covid-19 vaccination certifications from Nov 15.
This will allow fully vaccinated travellers with proof of vaccination issued in either country to tap vaccination-differentiated safe management measures.
Flag carrier Singapore Airlines said it will convert all the six flights it is operating between Singapore and Seoul into designated VTL services from Nov 16.
It has no flights between the two countries on Nov 15.
Before Covid-19 struck, Singapore and South Korea were among each other's top travel destinations, with a total of 64 weekly passenger services connecting the two countries and carrying 1.6 million passengers annually.
According to data from the Singapore Tourism Board, South Korea was the ninth largest market for Singapore in terms of international visitor arrivals in 2019.
Singapore had last month unilaterally started VTLs with Brunei and Germany. While Germany had earlier opened its borders to Singapore, Brunei's borders remain largely closed.
Under the scheme, vaccinated travellers can come into Singapore provided they meet requirements, such as staying in either the country of departure and/or Singapore in the last 14 days prior to departure for Singapore.
There will be no restrictions on the purpose of travel or requirements for a controlled itinerary or sponsorship, as had been required in bilateral agreements with other countries so far.
More VTLs, including with the United States, are expected to be on the way, as Singapore looks to restore the Changi air hub to its former glory.
The Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines' director-general Subhas Menon welcomed the VTLs between Singapore and South Korea, but said that much more will have to be done in terms of border reopening in the region. Noting that air hubs like Changi can promote economic recovery, he wanted more governments to be proactive on this score.
"What is most frustrating is that the governments are not talking to one another to try and streamline policies and establish some ground rules on border access," he said.
"Singapore has done it, a couple of other governments have done it, but it is not widespread enough."
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