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Opening Remarks by Minister for Transport, S Iswaran, at the Multi-Ministry Task Force Press Conference on 19 August 2021

19 Aug 2021 Speeches

1.     On 24 March 2020, Singapore closed its borders to the rest of the world. 

a.     We did this to curb the spread of COVID-19 and to save lives. 

b.     But we also knew that such a sweeping and unprecedented move would profoundly disrupt our economy and also our status as an aviation hub.  

2.     Since then, we have made a series of careful moves to reopen our borders. 

a.     For very low-risk countries and regions, we have unilaterally opened to allow general travel with an on-arrival PCR test. About 33,000 visitors have arrived from these countries and regions over the past year. 

b.     We also have travel lanes for specific purposes such as the Reciprocal Green Lanes for essential business and official travel. 

c.     Other than these, our borders are still essentially closed to all general travel. 

3.     So families have not been able to see each other, and leisure travel is not possible.  

4.     This has also exacted a heavy toll on the aviation sector and the adjacent industries, which employ more than 190,000 people.  

a.     Changi Airport is only at about 3% of its usual pre-COVID-19 passenger volume. 

b.     The number of passengers SIA carried in June 2021 is just 4% of that in December 2019. 

c.     Related sectors, including aerospace, tourism and hospitality, have also been badly affected. 

d.     Our aviation workers have made many adjustments and sacrifices to keep our borders open for essential supplies, and for Singaporeans to return home. And we are deeply appreciative of their commitment and efforts. 

5.     But the current situation is not sustainable. As a small and open economy, Singapore’s survival and success depends critically on being open and connected to the world.

6.     The MTF co-chairs have outlined how, enabled by the vaccination rates in our population, we are making the transition towards a COVID-resilient nation. 

a.     We are reopening in a careful and calibrated manner, striking a balance that will protect lives and livelihoods. 

7.     And that is the same approach we will adopt to the re-opening of our borders and resumption of air travel – careful, calibrated, step-by-step. 

a.     We will continue to be guided by our public health assessment of a country or region’s COVID-19 situation, including their infection rate and vaccination coverage. 

b.     This is also the basis for the risk-based categorisation of countries and regions and attendant border measures, which Minister Gan has mentioned. To quickly reiterate:

i.     Starting with allowing travellers to enter with just an On-Arrival Test for Category I 

ii.    A 7-day SHN for Category II

iii.   And a 14-day SHN for Categories III and IV.  

Vaccinated Travel Lane

8.     In the transition towards a COVID-19 resilient nation, we need to augment these border measures with new modalities to reopen travel safely. 

9.     Therefore, as a next step, we will introduce Vaccinated Travel Lanes. We will start with two countries in Category II: Germany and Brunei. And let me explain further. 

Germany

10.    With effect from 1 September, we will allow any traveller from Germany who is fully vaccinated to apply for entry into Singapore under the Vaccinated Travel Lane. This is open for general travel. So its not confined to business or official travel. It is for all general travel. Approved VTL travellers can enter Singapore from 8 September onwards. 

11.    Those based in Singapore who travel to Germany may also return to Singapore under the VTL.  

a.     As Germany is already open to travellers from Singapore, the VTL will restore two-way quarantine-free travel between our two countries.

12.    To qualify for the VTL, travellers must be fully vaccinated in either Singapore or Germany.

a.     An individual will be considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the full regimen of a COVID-19 vaccine under our national vaccination programme, or any COVID-19 vaccine in the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Use Listing.

b.     We will require those who have been vaccinated in Germany to present proof so that we can verify their vaccination status as part of the entry process. 

13.    Travellers must have remained in either Singapore or Germany for 21 days prior to departure.   

14.    VTL travellers from Germany will not be subject to SHN. However, they will be subject to a rigorous testing regime. 

a.     First, they will need to present a negative PCR test result taken 48 hours before departure. 

b.     In Singapore, they will have to take an on-arrival PCR test, and be required to self-isolate while awaiting their test result.

c.     They will also be required to take two PCR tests on the third and seventh day after arrival.

15.    For a start, there will be one daily designated flight for VTL travellers from Germany to Singapore. In aggregate that would mean about 2000 travellers per week, if the VTL is fully taken up.

Brunei

16.    As Brunei has been reclassified into Category II, the current unilateral opening arrangement for travellers from Brunei will cease on 20th August. Visitors can continue to apply for essential travel to Singapore through the current Reciprocal Green Lane.   

17.    In addition, from 1 September, we will allow fully vaccinated travellers from Brunei to apply for entry into Singapore under the VTL. The same conditions as that for the VTL with Germany will apply. For a start, there will be three designated VTL flights per week.  

18.    The Vaccinated Travel Lanes with Germany and Brunei mark a measured start to the resumption of air travel, with an essential set of safeguards. 

a.     We have chosen to start with these two countries, based on overall risk and operational assessments. 

b.     CAAS is working with all partners, including airlines, Changi Airport, and other government agencies, to gear up for the VTLs, including putting in place the required testing regime. 

c.     This will allow all stakeholders to run in their processes, learn from the experience and make further enhancements, before we consider possible extension of the scheme.   

Hong Kong and Macao

19.    Let me now turn to Hong Kong. 

20.    As you would be well aware, Singapore and Hong Kong have been in discussion on an Air Travel Bubble since last October, when vaccinations were not yet available. 

a.     Unfortunately, we have not been able to launch the ATB, due to the surge in community cases in both our cities at different points in time. 

b.     In Singapore, a substantial proportion of our population is fully vaccinated. Hong Kong too is progressively vaccinating its population. Both sides are focused on keeping our populations safe and minimising the risk of imported cases. But our strategies differ, with Singapore now taking steps towards becoming a COVID-resilient nation.   

c.     Against this backdrop, my Hong Kong counterpart Secretary Edward Yau and I have discussed and concluded that we will not be able to launch or sustain the ATB in its present form. 

d.     We remain committed to facilitating travel between Hong Kong and Singapore. We are both financial and aviation hubs with close economic and personal ties. And it is important to re-establish general travel with Hong Kong so that our people and businesses can reconnect.

e.     In this regard, earlier this month Hong Kong announced revisions to its overall border policies; and this includes a shorter quarantine period for vaccinated travellers from Singapore. 

21.    On our part, Singapore will unilaterally open to visitors from Hong Kong, which is in Category 1. Similar to visitors from other very low risk countries and regions like Mainland China (excluding Jiangsu province), New Zealand and Taiwan, visitors from Hong Kong will be allowed to enter Singapore with just an on-arrival PCR test.

a.     We will also extend this unilateral opening to visitors from Macao, which is also in Category 1.   

b.     Visitors from Hong Kong and Macao will be allowed to apply for entry with immediate effect, for entry into Singapore a week later. 

Conclusion

22.    So let me summarise what all this means for our travel landscape. 

a.     Ministry of Health has established a risk-based categorisation of countries/regions and attendant border measures. This is the baseline setting for all travellers, and the foundation upon which we will assess further reopening moves. 

b.     We commenced last year with unilateral openings to very low-risk countries and regions. We now add Hong Kong and Macao to this list. With this, we would have allowed general travel from all Category I countries and regions subject to an on-arrival PCR test. 

c.     We will augment this framework with the launch of Vaccinated Travel Lanes for Germany and Brunei. This is a new modality in our reopening, which has been enabled by the progress in vaccination in Singapore and other parts of the world.  

d.     We will implement the Vaccinated Travel Lanes cautiously. We are starting with two countries, with designated flights and a set of essential safeguards. This will allow us to learn from the experience and enhance our processes, before any further expansion of the scheme.    

23.    I know that some Singaporeans would want us to move faster on the Vaccinated Travel Lanes. I also know that others may be concerned about the risks of such reopening measures.

24.    To those who want us to do more, I ask for your patience. At this juncture, it is more important that we get it right than do it fast. The experience gained from implementing these initial moves safely will enable us to later extend the scheme with confidence. 

25.    To the Singaporeans who are concerned, I seek your understanding. We are moving in a measured manner, starting small with two countries, and an essential set of safeguards. The safety and well-being of our people will always remain our utmost priority. We will not throw caution to the wind.  

26.    Above all, we seek the support of all Singaporeans for these measures. As an open and small economy, our connectivity with the rest of the world is essential, if not existential. That is why we need to start reopening. The longer our borders remain closed, the greater the risk of lasting damage to our economy, our livelihoods, and our status as an aviation hub. 

27.    We will continue to take a cautious, calibrated, step-by-step approach to reopening our borders, always mindful of our public health objectives. And we are fortunate to be embarking on these moves with more than 75% of our population fully vaccinated. 

28.    Ultimately, we want to safely and progressively reopen our borders and resume air travel, to build public confidence and ensure that these arrangements are sustainable, as we journey towards a COVID-resilient nation. Thank you.

Travelling to SG