Coronavirus: Global situation

Cheers and sighs of relief as Switzerland-Singapore VTL opens up

Singaporean Evelyn Yeo was among the first travellers to use the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Switzerland and Singapore that started a week ago.

"I spent four days visiting my family in Zurich," the 42-year-old told The Sunday Times while waiting for the inaugural VTL flight to Singapore on Nov 8.

She used to visit her family up to three times a year, but that stopped for two years due to the pandemic. "It was only through the VTL that I was able to see them again," said Ms Yeo.

The Aprilana family from Jakarta had a more adventurous time. They had a reunion in France - their first in two years - then travelled to Switzerland to take the first VTL flight to Singapore.

"My brother works in Singapore," said Indonesian Annette Aprilana, 24. "But we could visit him there from Jakarta only after a two-week quarantine. We don't have that time. So we all arranged to meet in France."

Previously, although travellers from Singapore could enter Switzerland without self-quarantine if they were fully vaccinated or had a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result, they had to serve a stay-home notice after returning to Singapore.

Now, there is no need for quarantine in the Republic under the VTL arrangement. To book a VTL flight, passengers must be fully vaccinated and stay in Switzerland or Singapore for 14 days before travelling. They must also present two negative PCR test results - before departure and after arrival at Changi Airport.

Children under the age of 12 can travel if they are accompanied by an adult who meets the VTL requirements.

Singapore has announced 16 VTLs so far - 12 of them have begun while the other four - with South Korea, Malaysia, Sweden and Finland - will start later this month.

Mr Alastair Hay-Campbell, general manager for Germany, Austria and Switzerland at Singapore Airlines (SIA), said: "The VTLs are a game changer. We want to bring people back to Singapore - and beyond."

SIA flies daily to Zurich and Swiss Airlines told local newspaper Aargauer Zeitung that it is planning to fly from Zurich to Singapore three times a week. This would be a relief to about 3,000 Swiss living in Singapore, as many of them do not have permanent resident status in the Republic.

"Most Swiss living in Singapore did not travel because they feared they would not be able to return. This has become psychologically difficult to endure," Ms Alexandra de Mello, representative of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, said. "My children, for example, went to school in Singapore, but because they are now studying or working abroad, have not been able to return for almost two years," she added.

There are more than 1,000 Swiss companies operating in Singapore, including large banks, insurance companies and other corporations. Bilateral relations between both countries have a long tradition, and there is much in common between the countries.

"They are both small, open, innovative, successful economies. Lacking natural resources, both are counting a lot on the resourcefulness of their people, and as such often find themselves on the top spots in international rankings, for example in education and innovation," Switzerland's Ambassador to Singapore Fabrice Filliez said.

"These similarities are certainly also good explanations why Singapore has been attracting many Swiss."

Travel in the opposite direction is also expected to pick up.

"The second-most overnight stays by South-east Asian tourists in Switzerland come from Singapore," said Mr Batiste Pilet, director of South-east Asia at Switzerland Tourism.

Tourists from Thailand chalked up the most overnight stays.

Currently in Switzerland, there are still some Covid-19 restrictions in place. To visit a restaurant, for example, guests must show proof of their vaccination status, recovery from infection or a negative test result.

Generally, masks do not have to be worn in the streets.

They are mandatory in public places such as banks, shops and museums, as well as in train stations and public transport.

Covid-19 infections in Switzerland are on the rise, with more than 2,000 new cases reported on average each day.

Almost 65 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated so far. A "National Vaccination Week" was launched in the past week to encourage more Swiss people to get vaccinated. For example, vaccination buses were mobilised so that people can get their jabs on board the vehicles.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 14, 2021, with the headline Cheers and sighs of relief as Switzerland-Singapore VTL opens up. Subscribe