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Opening Remarks by Minister for Transport, Mr S Iswaran on VTLs with India, Indonesia, and the Middle East

15 Nov 2021 Speeches

1.     To date, we have announced VTLs with 16 countries – 2 in North America, 10 in Europe, and 4 in the Asia-Pacific.    

2.     I will now outline our plans to extend the VTL scheme to five more countries.     

Indonesia

3.     First, Indonesia.  MOH had earlier updated its public health assessment and upgraded Indonesia to Category II from 12 November.

4.     Singapore and Indonesia are close neighbours with strong economic and people-to-people ties. 

a.     Singapore is the top foreign investor in Indonesia, across various sectors including manufacturing, energy and logistics. 

b.     Pre-COVID, Indonesia was among our top five markets for passenger arrivals at Changi Airport, accounting for about 10% in 2019.  

5.     We have therefore been engaging Indonesia on restoring bilateral connectivity.   

a.     We will launch a unilateral Vaccinated Travel Lane with Indonesia from 29 November. 

b.     We plan to start with two daily designated services between Singapore and Jakarta  and will progressively increase this to four.

6.     Indonesia remains closed to general travel, but has started to open its borders.   

a.     Since 14 October, Indonesia has unilaterally reopened its borders to allow visitors from 19 countries.   

b.     We hope that Indonesia will likewise soon reopen its borders to travellers from Singapore.   

c.     Meanwhile, fully vaccinated travellers from Indonesia, as well as visitors from our other VTL countries which Indonesia has also opened to, such as France, Italy and Spain, will be able to enter Singapore with testing in lieu of quarantine. 

India

7.     Let me now turn to India. 

8.     The Ministry of Health has updated its public health assessment and will upgrade India to Category II from 19 November. 

9.     Our ties with India are longstanding and broad-based.   

a.     India was among our top five markets accounting for about 7% of passenger arrivals at Changi Airport, in 2019.  

10.    We have been discussing the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates, and with effect from 12 November, India has begun to recognise vaccination certificates issued by Singapore. 

a.     This means that fully vaccinated travellers from Singapore entering India will no longer need to undergo post-arrival tests or home quarantine.  They would just need to self-monitor for 14 days upon arrival. 

11.    Building on this momentum, Singapore intends to start a Vaccinated Travel Lane with India from 29 November. 

a.     For this purpose, we are in discussions on the resumption of scheduled commercial passenger services, as today the only flights from Singapore allowed to carry passengers to India are government-chartered relief flights under the “Vande Bharat Mission”.

b.     Our discussions with India are progressing well, and we aim to start 2 daily VTL flights each from Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai by 29 November. CAAS will provide more details once finalised.

Middle East


12.    Let me now turn to the Middle East. 

13.    We have strong bilateral economic links with the Middle East. 

a.     There are over 400 Singapore companies based in the UAE alone, including ST Engineering, Sembcorp and DBS. 

b.     Similarly, Middle East companies have a significant presence here, often using Singapore as a hub for Southeast Asia. 

14.    It is essential that we re-establish our connectivity with the Middle East.   

a.     Fully vaccinated travellers from Singapore can already enter both the UAE and Saudi Arabia without quarantine, while Qatar requires that travellers self-isolate until they obtain a negative on-arrival PCR result. 

b.     Singapore will extend VTLs to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar from 6 December, and this will restore two-way travel with these three countries, which is quarantine-free. Collectively, we aim to have 3 – 4 daily VTL flights with these countries.

15.    In addition, we will increase the daily quota for our VTLs from 6,000 to 10,000.   

a.     This is about 13% of the total daily arrivals at Changi pre-COVID.

b.     Pre-COVID, these 21 countries contributed to just under 50% of the total daily arrivals at Changi.  Our VTL quotas amount to about one-quarter of the total pre-COVID flows from these countries. 

c.     We will monitor the progress of the VTLs closely before deciding on further moves. 

Reviewing and Enhancing the VTL

16.    Let me also take this opportunity to address a couple of other issues in relation to the VTLs. 

17.    First, there have been appeals from some travellers from the US facing difficulty getting their proof of vaccination recognised.  

a.     The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has announced on 13 November that we will broaden the proof of vaccination recognised for travel from the US to help more travellers, while it works to expand the list of US certificates that can be digitally verified. 

b.     I hope that this will reassure and make it easier for those planning to travel to Singapore from the US, especially our overseas Singaporeans.

18.    Secondly, there have been concerns over the decision of the Council of the European Union (EU) to remove Singapore from the ‘whitelist’ of countries for whom travel restrictions have been lifted. Last month, the US had also raised its COVID-19 health advisory for travel into Singapore. 

19.    The global COVID-19 pandemic is evolving, with the risk of new variants and waves of infection.  We must expect and accept that border policies may change as situations change.  

20.    Hence, as our domestic situation evolves, some countries have adjusted their border measures for travellers from Singapore.  Similarly, as I have emphasised before, we too will review and adjust our border measures based on the circumstances in other countries.  

21.    Careful and calibrated reopening of our borders also means being prepared to make the necessary adjustments to, and even curtail, the VTL arrangements if warranted by the public health risk assessment. 

22.    Meanwhile, as many Singaporean families are planning to travel, I urge all travellers to closely monitor the situation in the countries they are visiting, be well-informed and updated on their latest public health and border measures, and plan ahead for contingencies.   

Conclusion 

23.    To conclude:

a.     We are progressively expanding the VTL scheme as we gain experience and confidence from its implementation. 

b.     And as we learn to ‘live with COVID-19’, we will persevere with reopening our borders safely to secure our position as a global business and aviation hub, while retaining the flexibility to adapt quickly to the evolving pandemic situation.