Singapore keen to work on Australia travel after opening to United States


Singapore has been gradually reopening its borders after shifting from a Covid-zero strategy that was centered around stamping out infections. - Image courtesy of The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE, Oct 11 (Bloomberg): Singapore is considering more vaccinated travel routes after opening up to the US and other key trading partners, with Transport Minister S. Iswaran saying Monday that the city state is keen to work with regional neighbors including Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

"Certainly, Australia is a very important partner country for us. And there’s a great deal of connectivity between Australia and Singapore, and through Singapore to other parts of the world as well,” Iswaran said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

"So we are quite keen to work with Australia, with New Zealand, with Japan and many other countries in the region, in terms of how we can move forward in this regard.”

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is pushing on with a strategy of living with Covid-19 without being paralyzed by fear, saying in a televised address Saturday that the nation can’t stay "locked down and closed off indefinitely.” Singapore has added more countries, including the US, the U.K., France and Italy, to its list of places fully-vaccinated people can travel quarantine-free starting as early as Oct. 19, after kicking off a similar arrangement with Germany and Brunei last month.

Singapore has been gradually reopening its borders after shifting from a Covid-zero strategy that was centered around stamping out infections.

The country, one of Asia’s most-important financial hubs, now aims to treat the disease as endemic, considering 83% of its population is fully inoculated and most people who are getting infected aren’t falling seriously ill. The vast majority have little or no symptoms.

While all nations navigate their own domestic situations, Singapore intends to "maintain the conversation and the discussion, because we are ready, we have a template of sorts in the VTLs we have established and will be prepared to work with our partners, including in Australia, to see how we can implement some of these as part of an initial set of moves,” Iswaran said, referring to so-called vaccinated travel lanes.

Hong Kong Lane

As many as 3,000 people are expected to enter Singapore daily under the expanded vaccinated travel lanes and capacity may increase after the government monitors demand and any resulting Covid cases, Iswaran said Saturday in a separate briefing to outline the new channels, which also include Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and South Korea.

More than 3,100 people from Brunei and Germany have already entered Singapore under the special lanes as of Oct. 8, Iswaran said over the weekend. So far, there have only been two Covid cases among those visitors, which were detected on arrival.

Singapore also Saturday cut the number of required Covid tests for travelers on the vaccinated lanes to two from four, significantly reducing cost and inconvenience. Singapore Airlines Ltd, meanwhile, is expanding its vaccinated travel lane flights to 14 cities, with more points on special designated services to be announced in coming weeks, the carrier said in a statement.

Shares in Singapore Airlines jumped as much as 9.6% Monday, while SATS Ltd., which provides airline catering and ground-handling services, rose 6.5%, its biggest gain since November last year.

Singapore has also allowed quarantine-free travel from Hong Kong, China, Macau and Taiwan, although people traveling to those places must abide by local rules, which in most circumstances require lengthy quarantine upon arrival.

Talks between Singapore and Hong Kong for a quarantine-free travel arrangement ended in August after infections in both cities see-sawed. Differences in the pandemic strategies was a factor in the decision as Singapore moved toward a strategy of building a "Covid-resilient” nation, Hong Kong said at the time.

Iswaran said Monday that Singapore was still open to working on a vaccinated travel lane with Hong Kong, as he underscored the significance of inter-regional connectivity.

"It’s very important, I think, that the connectivity within Asia, Asia Pacific is reinstated, particularly between the major aviation, financial, business hubs,” Iswaran said. "For example, the announcement that we made with respect to the Republic of Korea, I thought was very important because it’s the first of its kind between two major aviation hubs in Asia.”

Locally, Singapore is tightening some measures as the number of daily cases has exceeded 3,000 for several days running. As of Wednesday, only vaccinated people will be able to enter shopping malls, outdoor eating markets and other attractions. Dine-in also remains limited to those who have had the jab, and even then, only in group sizes of two.

Despite the strict local rules, which include mask wearing at all times when outdoors except while exercising, Singapore has been trying to revive its aviation and tourism industries -- both key to the economy.

Passenger traffic at Changi Airport, Asia’s second-busiest aerodrome for international flights, was just 2% of pre-Covid levels in the first eight months of this year, while Singapore Airlines is bleeding red ink as a result of the pandemic. - Bloomberg

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