Singapore 'optimistic' that land border with Malaysia can reopen end-Nov, says Covid-19 task force

Singapore and Malaysia are in talks to open a land VTL, with priority going to families that have been separated since the start of the pandemic. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The Singapore-Johor land border could reopen by the end of the month, close to the launch of the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) with Kuala Lumpur, said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong.

"I'm optimistic that we will be able to launch this VTL for land around the end of this month, close to the launch of the VTL for air. And it is also possible that we would be able to do so on the same day," said Mr Gan on Saturday (Nov 20) in response to a question at a press conference.

Flights between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International will be reopened for quarantine-free travel from Nov 29 for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic prompted border closures.

Media reports from Malaysia said land borders would reopen on Nov 29 as well. When asked about this, Mr Gan said the land reopening will be for a smaller number of vaccinated travellers, with a limited quota.

The minister did not confirm the Nov 29 date, but said more details will follow in the coming week so that people who want to travel can make plans.

"The priority is really to allow families who have been separated for a long time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic," said Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic.

"The first phase of the VTL for land is likely to focus on this group of people who have a need to meet their family to be reunited and subsequently, we can think about expanding the scope to allow more people to travel."

More than 100,000 Malaysians are estimated to have been stuck in Singapore since borders were closed in the early months of the pandemic last year, and there are also Singaporeans working in Malaysia who have not been able to come home.

The task force was also asked about Singapore's approach to categorising countries by risk levels and if it was moving towards getting rid of quarantine facilities, given the low number of imported cases.

In response, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who is also a co-chair of the task force, said Singapore looks at a broad range of indicators every fortnight in deciding the risk status of countries, and adjusts its border measures accordingly.

These include the infection situation in the countries and the infection rate of travellers from those countries based on their Covid-19 test results upon arrival. So far, the tests done at Changi Airport have shown quite low infection rates for travellers, Mr Wong said.

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The task force will continue to assess border measures with this approach and may consider relaxing them at some point in time, he said.

Singapore has eased its border restrictions to allow those arriving from lower-risk countries to serve their quarantine at home and the duration has also been shortened from 14 to 10 days, he noted.

In addition to the Covid-19 infection rate, the task force will keep an eye out for new variants, especially ones that are more resistant to vaccines, he said. "That, increasingly, will be our focus and the approach as we look at our border measures."

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