A mass exercise to vaccinate 37,000 front-line workers in the aviation and maritime sectors began yesterday, paving the way for Singapore to revive its flagging airline industry.
About 13,000 workers have registered to get their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine this week and the exercise is set to be completed within two months, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said during a visit to the vaccination centre at Changi Airport Terminal 4.
The vaccinations are a very important step towards reviving Singapore's air hub, which has been decimated by the pandemic, he told reporters. Passenger traffic at Changi saw a 98 per cent year-on-year decline last November.
If a substantial number of aviation and maritime workers are vaccinated, "whoever comes through will know that it is safe, (that) our people are cohesive and we work as a team", Mr Ong said.
"This is a huge advantage in terms of our brand name," he stressed. "Singapore Airlines (SIA) can be the first vaccinated international airline of the world."
Inoculating front-line workers will also protect Singapore, he added, noting that while the situation here is under control, the virus is "raging like wildfire" abroad.
"All our 37,000 front-liners, they're defenders of our borders because the borders are a key vulnerability," he said, as he urged these front-liners to step forward.
The T4 centre will vaccinate up to 2,000 people a day and capacity can be further expanded, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) in a statement.
Priority will be given to 20,000 front-line workers, including cabin crew, cleaners, security screeners and baggage handlers, who may come into contact with travellers from high-risk countries, as well as their belongings.
The vaccination centre at Raffles City Convention Centre, where maritime workers get their jabs, will inoculate 1,000 people a day.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said more than 10,000 port workers, harbour pilots, cargo officers and marine superintendents will be vaccinated by the end of the month.
Aviation and maritime workers who have completed their full course of vaccination will also be subjected to fewer testing requirements, said CAAS and MPA.
This will kick in two weeks after workers get the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has two doses given 21 days apart.
Those rostered to be tested every seven days will be tested once every 14 days instead. Those tested every 14 days will need to be tested only once a month.
Mr Ong said there will be some workers who are reluctant to take the vaccine, due to personal considerations. But the majority are willing to step forward, he said, adding: "So just start vaccinating those who are willing first, and over time, I think, the momentum will grow... As of now the national policy remains that we are not making it compulsory, even at the sectoral basis."
On the air travel bubble with Hong Kong that was deferred last November, Mr Ong said he would rather not set a target for when it can resume. As for air travel bubbles with other places, the minister said Singapore continues to explore such arrangements. "They will continue to be relevant with or without vaccines," he added.
Mr Ong, SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong, and Sats president and chief executive Alex Hungate got their jabs yesterday.
In an internal e-mail to SIA staff seen by The Straits Times, Mr Goh said vaccinations are expected to be the game changer in facilitating the opening of borders again.
"It will set the SIA Group up for a quicker recovery from this debilitating crisis," he wrote.
"This will also be an important differentiator in the airline industry, and support our goal of continuing to be a leader in the new normal."