SINGAPORE — From 8 November, fully vaccinated travellers from Australia and Switzerland, including children aged 12 and below, may enter Singapore without quarantine as part of the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.
As the latest VTLs commence, the current VTL quota will also increase from the existing 3,000 to 4,000 travellers daily. Under the VTL, travellers from designated countries may enter Singapore without quarantine and with Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing, provided they meet certain conditions.
"It's important that we persevere with efforts to reopen our borders with essential public health safeguards in place, so as to remain an international aviation and business hub, with global connectivity," said Transport Minister S Iswaran at a virtual media briefing on Tuesday (26 October).
While the launch of VTLs has been informed by public heath assessments, Iswaran stressed that the situation remains dynamic. "It is important that whatever changes we make, the system (must be) adaptable to the circumstances as the risk assessment evolves...whether it is easing up on the requirements or, if necessary, also tightening up."
Both Australia and Switzerland have been classified by the Ministry of Health (MOH) as Category II, meaning that they have similar or lower COVID incidence rates than Singapore and the other VTL countries.
Switzerland has already opened to its borders to all travellers from Singapore. For entry into Australia, travellers are advised to check the entry requirements of the respective countries.
The two countries are the 12th and 13th in the VTL scheme, which Iswaran noted still amounts to only "a fraction" of the countries that Changi Airport was connected to pre-COVID.
Earlier this month, Singapore extended the VTL scheme to eight additional countries: Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
A VTL was also launched on 8 September for Brunei Darussalam and Germany, while mutual VTLs between Singapore and South Korea will commence from 15 November.
Since the start of the scheme on 8 September, more than 5,100 Vaccinated Travel Pass (VTP) holders have arrived, and there have been five confirmed imported cases of COVID-19. Some 15,000 VTPs have been issued thus far.
Asked to assess the effectiveness of VTLs in reinvigorating the economy, Iswaran said that beyond the number of applications for VTPs, the key factor was restoring confidence in the safety of air travel. "I would say the fact that we've actually already been able to facilitate this volume of travel is a positive sign. To me, the measure of progress is really in building on that, step by step, but with confidence that we're able to do this safely."
The tourism and travel industry, added the minister, understands and accepts that it is more important to do this "well and safe" rather than fast.
Families can reunite
"The VTL will allow the more than 50,000 Singaporeans living in Australia, and the Australian community in Singapore of more than 25,000, to reconnect with their loved ones after nearly two years of physical separation," said Iswaran.
With the forthcoming VTL, fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families will be able to enter Singapore. Student and business pass holders from Singapore are also expected to be able to enter Australia once it has finalised the arrangements for their entry.
Pre-COVID, Australia was amongst Singapore's top 10 markets for annual passenger arrivals at Changi Airport. But Australia's international borders have been closed to non-citizens and non-residents since March 2020.
It had also imposed a ban on its own citizens and residents from traveling overseas. Thus far, the only country Australia has reopened to is New Zealand.
"What we would want to do is make sure these initial arrangements work well, so that both sides have the confidence to be able to do more, and facilitate travel for a wider group of travellers," said the minister.
On Monday, MOH reported that the current overall intensive care unit (ICU) utilisation rate is at 83.6 per cent. Given this, Yahoo News Singapore asked if it was prudent to continue extending the VTL scheme and to increase the VTL quota. Had the government considered public sentiments in this regard?
In response, Iswaran alluded to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's remarks that the country must learn to live with COVID. "What we're doing is really taking these very careful steps in terms of how we open up," he said, pointing to the requirements for inbound travellers such as vaccination and PCR tests, and noting the low number of imported cases since the VTL scheme began.
He pointed out that many in Singapore have families in the VTL countries that they wish to reconnect with, while there are also many Singaporeans there who wish to come back. "I think ultimately it's also what can make a difference in terms of the lives and livelihoods of Singaporeans."
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