SIA flies first batches of Covid-19 vaccines to Australia and New Zealand

The shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine being unloaded off flight SQ231 in Sydney on Feb 15, 2021.
The shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine being unloaded off flight SQ231 in Sydney on Feb 15, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) flew the first batches of Covid-19 vaccines to Australia and New Zealand on Monday (Feb 15), in another small step forward in the global fight against the pandemic.

SQ231 touched down in Sydney in the afternoon, carrying 142,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Another SIA plane touched down in Auckland with 60,000 doses of the same vaccine.

SIA flew the vaccine cargo from Brussels through Changi Airport. Local ground handler Sats handled the shipment while it was in transit in Singapore. It took SIA 40 hours to fly the vaccine shipment from Brussels to Australia, and 36 hours to New Zealand.

In both cases, the carrier worked with logistics firm DHL Global Forwarding to transport the vaccine.

SIA told the media in New Zealand and Australia that the successful delivery of the vaccines was a significant milestone in the fight against the coronavirus.

In a Facebook post on Monday evening, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said: "While we do our best to contain Covid-19 in Singapore, we will also do our part to fight the virus in the region and the world."

Singapore has been looking to position itself as a hub for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in the South-east Asia region, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Firms in the air cargo sector have been touting their abilities to maintain the temperature-controlled environment needed for every stage of transporting the vaccine.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in December that the handling of large volumes of vaccines would support Singapore's "recovery in more ways than one".

But observers have noted that there are several challenges in moving large shipments of vaccine through Singapore. These include competition from other air hubs seeking to ship vaccines to South-east Asia, as well as countries opting for direct shipments.