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S’pore to start VTLs with HK, Philippines,Thailand,Qatar, and Saudi Arabia


VTL travellers will also no longer need to undergo a seven-day self-supervised ART testing regime after arrival. These changes come as Singapore pivots its border control measures to ensure that visitors to the Republic are well protected from Covid-19.

SINGAPORE – Vaccinated travellers will be able to fly into Singapore from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without quarantine from Feb 25, following an expansion in the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

Vaccinated travellers will soon also be able to fly into Singapore from all cities in Thailand without quarantine.

From March 4, Singapore will also start VTLs for Israel and the Philippines, to establish two-way quarantine-free travel with these two countries.

These changes come as Singapore pivots its border control measures to ensure that visitors to the Republic are well protected from Covid-19 so that they do not burden the healthcare system should they get infected here, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (Feb 16).

Transport Minister S. Iswaran noted that with greater certainty over the nature of the Omicron variant and its associated risks, it is important to resume the reopening of borders and reclaim Singapore’s position as a global business and aviation hub.

“Our ultimate goal is quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travellers,” he said at a press conference.

More people will be allowed to enter Singapore under the quarantine-free travel scheme as well, with the Government progressively lifting a 50 per cent cap on the number of VTL travellers that had been in place since December.

From next Tuesday (Feb 22), VTL travellers and those from countries and places deemed to be of low Covid-19 risk, will be able to take a supervised antigen rapid test (ART) within 24 hours of their arrival. This replaces the on-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at Changi Airport that travellers currently have to take.

VTL travellers will also no longer need to undergo a seven-day self-supervised ART testing regime after arrival.

The moves, announced by the multi-ministry task force handling the Covid-19 pandemic on Wednesday (Feb 16), effectively end a three-month pause in the reopening of Singapore’s borders.

They are also the first steps in Singapore’s move towards opening up to all vaccinated travellers.

The lone tightening of border restriction is with Hong Kong, as Singapore will stop its unilateral opening arrangement with the city following the Health Ministry’s review of the public health situation there.

Applications for quarantine-free entry for Hong Kong travellers into Singapore will cease from Feb 17. Instead, a new VTL will be started for Hong Kong from Feb 25. This means that only vaccinated travellers from Hong Kong can enter Singapore without quarantine, as opposed to all travellers.

The VTLs with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was supposed to start in early December but were deferred owing to their proximity to countries that experienced the initial waves of the Omicron variant.

Travellers from these three countries can apply for the pass to tap the VTLs to enter Singapore from 10 am on Feb 22.

Mr Ong said imported infections are now at about 1 per cent of the total case count daily, and thus have no significant impact on Singapore’s epidemic situation.

Instead of VTLs with selected countries, Singapore should transition towards opening up for all vaccinated travellers, he added. Instead of an abrupt change, Singapore will take the first step now by simplifying the current border restrictions for non-VTL travellers.

The Government will introduce a new General Travel category, which will replace the existing Category II, III and IV in Singapore’s border risk classification system.

This means that countries will be grouped into three distinct groups in terms of border restrictions.

The first is Category 1 countries and regions deemed to be of lowest risk of Covid-19 infections.

The second is a General Travel category consisting of countries that Singapore has started VTLs for, together with non-VTL countries and regions. VTL travellers from countries in this category can enjoy quarantine-free travel, while those from non-VTL countries have to undergo a seven-day stay-home notice.

The third is a new restricted category, which will include countries that warrant stricter border measures owing to developing Covid-19 situations. There will be no new restricted countries/ regions in this category for a start.

In tandem, the Government will simplify border measures for travellers arriving from 11.59 pm on Feb 21:

a. Travel history requirement will be reduced from 14 to seven days

b. Stay-home notice duration will be standardised to seven days across all country/region categories in view of Omicron’s shorter incubation period;

c. Enhanced testing regime for travellers arriving on VTLs will cease;

d. VTL and Category I travellers will no longer need to perform an on-arrival PCR test. Instead, they will have up to 24 hours from their entry into Singapore to take a supervised self-swab ART at one of the testing centres located across the country;

e. Vaccinated long-term pass holders will no longer have to obtain a Vaccinated Travel Pass or an entry approval to enter Singapore. They will still need to adhere to border health measures on entry.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said on Wednesday that in tandem with the other adjustments to travel measures, it will be removing the pre-departure test requirements for all passengers transferring or transiting through Singapore.

This will help reduce cost, improve convenience and enhance Singapore’s attractiveness as a transfer/transit hub, it said. The changes will apply to all flights arriving in Singapore from 11.59 pm on Feb 21.

As of 11.59 pm on Tuesday, Singapore has established VTLs with 24 countries, CAAS added.

A total of 389,046 travellers have entered Singapore via the VTLs. They comprise 109,325 short-term visitors, 99,259 long-term pass holders, 146,081 Singapore citizens and permanent residents, and 34,381 children aged 12 years and below.

More than 337,000 Vaccinated Travel Passes have been issued to short-term visitors and long-term pass holders for entry into Singapore between Sept 8 last year and Tuesday (Feb 15).

Toh Ting Wei

The Straits Times

 

Published : February 17, 2022