Singapore will lift most travel restrictions after Omicron wave
Singapore plans to substantially ease travel and social restrictions once the current wave of COVID infections peaks amid mounting evidence that the Omicron variant is less threatening than its predecessors.
The government will restore and progressively raise quotas on so-called vaccinated travel lanes, the Ministry of Health said in a statement Wednesday. Visitors entering the city-state via these VTLs from Feb. 22 will not need to take a polymerase chain reaction test upon arrival and can take a supervised self-swab instead.
This will pave the way for potentially allowing quarantine-free travel for anyone who is vaccinated once infections have peaked, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told reporters. The limit on the number of people allowed to dine together in restaurants could be lifted to eight or more from five now once the Omicron wave has passed.
“We will be able to take further significant steps to ease after we have passed the peak of this wave, which can happen in the coming weeks,” Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said at the same briefing.
Singapore has sought to revive its air hub status with quarantine-free travel agreements with two dozen countries. New VTL flights with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will start on Feb. 25, while travelers from Israel and the Philippines can enter on or after March 4.
Travelers from Hong Kong will now have to be fully-vaccinated to be able to enter Singapore quarantine-free, according to a separate statement from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, data compiled by Bloomberg show. About 90% of the total population is fully inoculated, and close to two-thirds have received booster shots. It recently started rolling out vaccines for those age 5-11 and over 70% of students in local primary schools will be fully vaccinated by the end of the month, the Education Ministry has said.
The high vaccination rate means that the vast majority of people who do get COVID are able to recover at home. Some 99.7% of cases are mild or asymptomatic, the Ministry of Health said.
The new testing requirements will lower overall travel expenses, with on-arrival PCR tests at S$125 ($93) comparing with “rapid” options that start at S$15. The reduction comes after Singapore’s central bank last month flagged the cost of testing for international travel as a recent inflation driver, along with fuel and food prices, when it surprised markets with an unexpected policy tightening.
Singapore’s plans are a sharp contrast to rival financial center Hong Kong, which is less vaccinated and has clung at Beijing’s behest to a restrictive COVID-zero policy Singapore abandoned last year. Hong Kong has largely shut down air travel and imposed strict quarantines on arrival.
Hong Kong and Singapore are both grappling with their worst daily COVID caseloads of the pandemic to date.
Yet while Singapore looks to ease, Hong Kong is cracking down. China’s President Xi Jinping called for Hong Kong officials to take “all necessary measures” in getting the city’s virus infections under control, an unusually direct intervention that could pave the way for stricter measures and possibly a broader lockdown.
Here are other points from the briefing:
- Vaccinated holders of long-term visas—including students, high-income foreign workers and their dependents—will no longer need to apply for entry approval for travel via vaccinated travel lanes.
- The maximum number of unique visitors per household will be adjusted from five persons per day, to five persons at any one time.
- Safe distancing will no longer be required in settings where people are wearing masks. Where safe distancing is needed, it will be 1 meter for all settings.
- Bans on visits to hospitals and care homes will be extended by one month to Mar. 20.
- All patients aged 3 to 69—including the unvaccinated, and fully vaccinated patients from 70-79 years old—can be managed by primary care doctors rather than dedicated facilities or the health ministry from Feb. 16.
- Close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases will now be advised rather than ordered to self-test for 5 days after being informed, down from 7 days.
- Specific size limits will be lifted for events like religious services and business events, with a 50% capacity limit on larger settings with over 1000 people.
—With assistance from Ranjeetha Pakiam, Derek Wallbank, Ramsey Al-Rikabi and Marcus Wright.
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