Singapore, Malaysia to start VTLs for quarantine-free air travel from Nov 29

The reopening between the neighbouring countries will pave the way for families and friends separated by Covid-19 to reunite.
The reopening between the neighbouring countries will pave the way for families and friends separated by Covid-19 to reunite.PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Vaccinated travellers will be able to take flights between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport without quarantine from Nov 29.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) in a joint statement on Monday (Nov 8).

There will be six designated flights for quarantine-free travel between the countries for a start. Applications for the scheme will start from Nov 22, and more details will be announced soon.

The long-awaited reopening between the neighbouring countries will pave the way for families and friends separated by Covid-19 to reunite, as well as for workers to come in and for business links to resume.

The two prime ministers had spoken on the phone on Monday, and agreed that it is timely to progressively resume cross-border travel in a safe manner, given the “significant progress that both countries have made in vaccinating their respective populations and managing the Covid-19 pandemic”, said the statement.

The reopening covers only air travel, and does not include land travel via the Causeway or Second Link.

"The prime ministers also look forward to restoring travel across the land links between both countries in the near future," said the statement.

PM Lee said Singapore and Malaysia enjoy deep, warm and multi-faceted relations. The VTLs will help “revive our economies, restore our people-to-people ties, and strengthen our bilateral relationship”, he added.

In a Facebook post, PM Lee said: “We are also discussing reopening travel across the Causeway and the Second Link. We look forward to launching a similar VTL scheme between Singapore and Johor in the near future.”

Datuk Seri Ismail said the VTLs are another important milestone in the longstanding cooperation between both countries, and that he looks forward to the effective roll-out of the scheme.

"The VTLs will allow travel as our two countries gradually reopen our borders responsibly by balancing the need to recover our economies while ensuring safety and health of our peoples from Covid-19," he added.

Singapore’s Transport Minister S. Iswaran said in a Facebook post that businesses will welcome the resumption of quarantine-free travel, and citizens in both countries will be able to reunite with their loved ones after nearly two years.

Mr Iswaran added that he has invited Malaysian Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong to visit Singapore soon, perhaps on the inaugural VTL flight.

Singapore had earlier announced VTLs with 13 other countries, including Australia, Britain and the United States.

Travellers entering Singapore under the VTL scheme do not have to serve a stay-home notice. Instead, they will be required to test negative for Covid-19 two days prior to departure for Singapore, as well as upon arrival.

From Thursday (Nov 11), travellers can submit either a negative test result from either a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test or a professionally administered antigen rapid test. 

Upon arrival, they will be required to take a PCR test, and can go about their activities  if they test negative. 

The Singapore-Kuala Lumpur air route was among the busiest in the world, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

From Thursday (Nov 11), Malaysia will be reclassified into Category II of the Health Ministry’s Covid-19 risk assessment framework for border measures.

This means that travellers entering from Malaysia have to serve a seven-day stay-home notice (SHN) at their declared place of residence or accommodation, down from 10 days previously.

During a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 on Monday, Mr Iswaran also announced that Singapore will start VTLs for travellers from Finland and Sweden on Nov 29 as well. 

The daily quota for VTL arrivals will be increased to 6,000 people from 4,000 currently, in line with the expanded VTLs, he added.

Mr Iswaran said the initial six VTL flights between Malaysia and Singapore should be able to meet demand. There will be operational issues that have to be ironed out, and the Government will look into expanding the scheme thereafter, he added. 

“We are also in discussions with our other Asean neighbours to reconnect with them and we will make further announcements when ready,” he said.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it will provide more information on the VTL arrangements with Malaysia and its flight schedules when available.

The SIA Group, which also includes budget arm Scoot, currently operates 25 weekly flights between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. 

Before the pandemic, the SIA Group was operating 91 weekly flights between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

About half a million people from both countries made daily trips across the land borders between Singapore and Johor before the borders closed in March last year.

An estimated 100,000 Malaysians remain stuck in Singapore since then, and are hoping to be reunited with families back home.

Currently, the Periodic Commuting Arrangement scheme, which facilitates movement of workers between both countries, allows for cross-border travel but with various conditions, including a stay-home notice.

There is a separate scheme for emergency visits in case of deaths or critical illness.

According to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Research Centre, Singapore has a Covid-19 incidence rate of 3,732 cases per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has a Covid-19 incidence rate of 7,744 cases per 100,000 people.