Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung announced on Tuesday (Oct 6) that ‘air travel bubbles’ with countries with low COVID-19 infection rates may soon be possible. Negotiations are on the way though he advised the public to manage their expectations.
“I need to manage expectations here. For members who are hoping that I’m about to announce some air travel resumption and even possible December holiday destinations, I am sorry I will disappoint you,” he said.
No requirements for a strict itinerary
‘Air travel bubbles’ differ from reciprocal green lane arrangements because there are no requirements for a controlled itinerary. Also, reciprocal green lanes are used mainly for official and business travel.
What to expect?
Singapore will only establish ‘air travel bubbles’ with safe countries and regions. Other than abiding by the COVID-19 test protocols, authorities might look into setting a quota on the number of travellers per day.
“We also require travellers to apply for an air travel pass before their journeys, to allow us to plan for their arrivals, and throttle down the numbers, reduce the quota, if the epidemic situation changes,” Mr Ong added.
Which country is top on the list?
Hong Kong has revealed its intention to establish such ‘air travel bubbles’ with Singapore alongside other countries. As such, Singapore will most likely begin discussions with Hong Kong and other partners soon.
COVID-19 testing capacity no longer a major constraint
Mr Ong shares that about 27,000 people in Singapore are tested daily and the numbers are set to rise. By November, Singapore may be able to increase testing capacity to 40,000 tests a day.
There are also plans to set up a dedicated COVID-19 testing laboratory at Changi Airport. This is so as to support aviation recovery in the coming months. Currently, Changi Airport has an existing facility to swab up to 10,000 passengers a day.
Travellers must get used to being tested before departing. This additional step is very much similar to us going through security and having our bags checked before we board a plane. Most importantly, it’s crucial to kickstart general travel.
Other plans in place to safely reopen borders
Countries which are economically important to Singapore but with higher infection rates will be considered with “practical schemes”.
“For example, we can replace the 14-day (stay-home notice) in a hotel with new requirements, such as a more stringent and repeated test protocol… we can segregate them from the rest of the community… we can closely track their movements while they are here,” said the minister.
Apart from ‘air travel bubbles’, Singapore will continue to pursue reciprocal green lane arrangements with other countries or regions. At the moment, Singapore has such arrangements with Brunei, China, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea.