Singapore to create more travel opportunities as it plans to remake economy for resilience
By Celine Chen
SINGAPORE, NNA - Singapore will collaborate with safe countries or places to create exclusive air travel 'bubbles' for travelers who would not be required to abide by any itinerary restriction.
The Southeast Asian city-state, which has significantly brought down the number of new daily cases of the COVID-19 virus to very low double-digits including only a handful local transmissions, will also negotiate with more countries to have reciprocal green-lane arrangements for official and business travelers.
Green-lane travelers are tested before departure and on arrival to ensure they do not carry the virus. They also have controlled itineraries. So far, Singapore has such arrangements with Japan, China, Brunei, Malaysia and South Korea.
The official announcement on more travel arrangements followed a mission statement by the nation's deputy premier on development strategies to remake the Singapore economy as a global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise in parliament on Monday (Oct. 5).
In his ministerial statement on travel on Tuesday (Oct. 6), Singapore transport minister Ong Ye Kung said, "The message we want to send to the world is this - Singapore has started to reopen its borders. In the near future, if you have the virus under control and infection rates are as low as Singapore's, you are welcome to visit us, but travelers will be subject to a COVID-19 test, as a precaution."
"If you are from a place where infection rates are higher than Singapore, you can also visit us, so long as you agree to conditions such as testing, segregation and contact tracing," he said in Parliament, adding that air travel will increase only when there is a widely available and effective vaccine.
On Tuesday (Oct. 6) the World Health Organization said a vaccine against COVID-19 may be ready by year-end, which is just a matter of a few months.
Meanwhile, Changi Airport, which saw its seventh position on global busiest airport rankings nosedived to 58th, will set up a COVID-19 testing laboratory in the next few months.
The move to create air travel 'bubbles' and more green lanes are in addition to other measures already implemented by Singapore, such as unilaterally lifting border restrictions. All of these are part of the nation's plans to revive its air hub by welcoming back visitors and creating job opportunities lost in the fallout of the coronavirus contagion.
In a travel bubble arrangement, two or more low-risk destinations agree to open their borders to each other only so that their people can move freely within their exclusive bubble, but cannot come in from the outside.
In an online poll conducted by The Straits Times, Singaporeans picked South Korea as their top favorite country, followed by Japan, for a 'bubble' arrangement with Singapore. Other destinations favored by them are Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand and China.
The transport minister said any safety risks posed by such travel arrangements can be managed by limiting the number of daily travelers and making sure that all of them get tested for COVID-19, the deadly novel coronavirus that has taken the lives of one million worldwide after the outbreak in Wuhan city was first reported by China in end-December last year.
Singapore is looking to form these 'bubbles' with countries and regions that have comprehensive public health surveillance systems, and low numbers of COVID-19 infections comparable to Singapore's.
Travelers will need to apply for air travel passes before their journey, to allow Singapore to plan for their arrival, and reduce the numbers if a coronavirus situation worsens, the minister added.
Ong noted that Hong Kong is already planning to establish such collaborative 'bubbles' with several countries, including Singapore.
"We hope to commence discussions with Hong Kong and other partners soon," he said.
Singapore will also continue to facilitate passenger transfers at Changi Airport with safeguards in place. Since June, only about 27,000 passengers have been transferred through Singapore, as most borders in the world are still closed.
Singapore has already unilaterally opened its borders to travelers from New Zealand, Brunei, Vietnam and Australia - except its state of Victoria.
While the minister does not expect a huge influx of visitors from these countries in the short term, he said "Singapore can be top of mind when they are ready eventually."
He said Britain currently allows Singaporeans to travel there unilaterally without quarantine.
As Britain's COVID-19 infection has surged quite high, Singapore still advises Singaporeans not to go there. And the country is also not ready to allow travelers from Britain to come freely here, he said.
Nevertheless, Singapore appreciates the United Kingdom's "standing invitation" and will restore travel between the two countries quickly once the infection rate in Britain falls to a safe level, he assured.
Welcoming more openings for air travel, Soo Yew Weng, vice president of Asia-Pacific sales and market development at SES Video, which owns and operates satellites, said, "Our business travels take us mainly around the entire Asia Pacific region as well as Europe for internal meetings. We definitely hope that there is the easing of travel restrictions to the countries where we mostly conduct our business in satellite services for broadcasting and communication, but we also need to ensure that safety and all precautions are well taken care of first."
Robin Lim, chairman of Hornbill Wealth Holdings, whose company works closely with asset management firms and targets wealthy clients in Southeast Asia, said, "Although countries around the world have started to relax travel restrictions, we are still subjected to changes in the immigration controls because of uncertain situations caused by an increase in positive COVID-19 cases."
"The post-COVID business environment will still be dependent on virtual conferencing via different modes of communication. If travel is needed, we are open to using private jets," he added.
Reene Ho-Phang, managing director of Brandstory marketing consultancy, which operates in Singapore as well as multiple cities across Asia particularly in Greater China, is looking forward to meeting her team members abroad.
She said, "The gradual re-opening is definitely a step in the right direction as it will allow, firstly, business travel to our various offices."
Apart from wanting to see safeguards put in place at airports and on planes, travelers are now also looking at new insurance products covering COVID-19-related medical and hospitalization costs during overseas travel, she noted.
Singapore prepares for Phase 3 opening, economy remaking for next lap
Details on Singapore's third stage of phased reopening will be announced in the coming weeks, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Monday (Oct. 5).
They will include the timeline for moving to the third stage, changes to the size of group gatherings and participation at mass events.
On the continual fight against COVID-19, Heng said Singapore will secure early access to effective vaccines, enhance testing capabilities, conduct swift contact tracing, isolate infected cases and adhere to safe management measures.
But the challenge now is to reopen borders in a safe and controlled manner to revive the economy despite the pandemic still menacing other parts of the world.
The deputy prime minister also announced strategies to lift Singapore out of the COVID-19 crisis and build on the multiple engines of growth in its diversified economy to remake the city-state in its next stage of development.
Singapore will focus on transforming itself to be a vibrant global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise in the post-COVID-19 world, said Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Finance Minister.
Now facing its worst recession since independence in the 1960s, the country also plans to produce essential food and medical supplies locally, invest in and adopt energy-efficient technologies, and seize business opportunities in the growing 'green' industry.
"In turn, all these initiatives will create many new opportunities and valuable jobs for our people," said Heng whose statement came before a third supplementary supply bill, which will inject an extra SG$8 billion (nearly $5.9 billion) into economic support.
Unprecedented stimulus packages, which amounted to nearly SG$100 billion (about $73 billion) or almost 20 percent of GDP, will prevent the economy from contracting by a further 5.6 percent of GDP in 2020, and 4.8 percent in 2021.
At a dialogue with American business leaders on Monday (Oct. 5), Singapore minister for trade and industry Chan Chun Sing emphasized Singapore's geo-strategic interests, reiterating the importance of trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to trade-dependent countries like Singapore.
According to The Straits Times, the American business leaders affirmed their confidence in Singapore's ability to grab opportunities and overcome current challenges.