Travel bubbles with other countries hinge on overall Covid-19 situation, not just vaccination: Gan Kim Yong

Singapore welcomes talks with countries that have managed their infections well. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore is actively discussing mutual travel arrangements with other countries, and such arrangements are likely to vary between different countries, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has said.

These agreements may not hinge solely on vaccination, as it depends on what the overall situation is like in each country, said Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 pandemic with Education Minister Lawrence Wong.

During a virtual press conference on Wednesday (March 24), Mr Gan said such negotiations are currently taking place on a bilateral basis and that Singapore cannot currently have a standard framework for all countries.

"Eventually, after a year or two years, when almost all countries are able to bring the pandemic under control... then we may be able to have multilateral global travel arrangements. But it's a long way off."

Mr Wong said other questions like whether travellers will have to be placed under stay-home notice (SHN) when returning from a given country hinges on not only both countries' vaccination programmes but also Singapore's assessment of the impact of vaccination on transmission risk.

"I think many people are hoping to see the possibility of a reduced or even no stay-home notice when you travel abroad and come back, but we have not confirmed these yet. We are still working through them, and when we are ready, we will share what these guidelines are for vaccinated persons."

Asked if Singapore will recognise only vaccination certificates for travellers who have received the vaccines that have been approved for use here, Mr Wong said it is more important to consider the overall transmission risk in the other country.

"Regardless of the type of vaccine that's being used in any country, I think the vaccines do have an impact in helping to reduce the incidence and the spread of the virus."

He said that a country which is able to keep infection rates under control will become a low-risk country, which means travellers entering Singapore from that country need not serve SHN.

Besides vaccination, Mr Wong said testing is another key consideration. Antibody tests, for example, can help determine if a person has not only been vaccinated but also has the right antibody response to confer immunity.

"It's not just looking at the vaccine alone, but looking at broader considerations, including the overall situation in the country and the possibilities of additional tests that can be administered," Mr Wong said.

"We will continue those conversations with different countries in working out the best way to facilitate travel in a safe manner."

Mr Wong also noted that previously negotiated reciprocal green lane agreements were developed before any country had vaccinations and more discussion will be needed before these agreements can be resumed.

These agreements allowed people to travel without being issued SHNs, but they would be subject to other measures such as Covid-19 tests or having a controlled itinerary.

"We will look at the possibility of resuming some of the travel lanes but with a different context because vaccines are now available. Part of the discussions about bilateral travel lanes would include now mutual recognition of vaccine certificates and what it means for vaccinated persons to travel."

Singapore welcomes talks with countries that have managed their infections well and brought Covid-19 transmission rates under control, Mr Wong said.

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