Singapore boosts testing, holds off on further reopening over Omicron variant

A bus driver sprays disinfectant on the luggage of passengers travelling to Malaysia as the Vaccinated Travel Lane between Singapore and Malaysia opens after the land border between the two countries reopened following nearly two years of being shut down due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at a bus station in Singapore November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Caroline Chia

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore will hold off on more reopening measures while it evaluates the Omicron COVID-19 variant and will increase testing of travelers and frontline workers to reduce the risk of local transmission, authorities said on Tuesday.

A quarantine-free entry policy for vaccinated arrivals in the Asian financial and travel hub will not be extended to more countries for now, while current social distancing measures will remain in place, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said.

"This is a prudent thing to do for now, when we are faced with a major uncertainty," Ong told a media briefing, adding the variant had not yet been detected locally.

Singapore will be prioritising use of COVID-19 Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests produced by Thermo Fisher on travelers. Thermo Fisher said it is able to detect the Omicron variant.

Any Omicron cases found in Singapore will be placed in government healthcare facilities rather than the home isolation so far used for mild COVID-19 cases.

Ong said Singapore's high vaccination rate should offer some protection against the variant.

The city-state had earlier restricted arrivals from South African countries, and deferred the expansion of the quarantine-free entry programme for vaccinated travelers from several Middle East countries, given "their proximity as transport nodes to the affected countries".

(Reporting by Chen Lin; Editing by Martin Petty)

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