SINGAPORE REOPENS: VACCINATED TRAVEL LANES TAKE SHAPE

Another month, another country leaning towards the reality of having to live with COVID-19 as an endemic. Singapore reopens as travel restrictions have finally relaxed – albeit somewhat – with the launch of quarantine-free Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) for eight new countries other than Germany, Brunei, etc.. Effective October 19, 2021, vaccinated people will be able to travel freely to and from eight countries, including United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada.

REOPENING STRATEGY: FULL INNOCULATIONS

With a population of 5.69 million about 83% are now deemed fully vaccinated, making Singapore one of the world’s most vaccinated countries. In October 2021, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore will reach a new normal and can lighten restrictions when cases stabilize. In an address to the nation, he stated, “It will take us at least three months, and perhaps as long as six months, to get there.”

Most of population aged 12 and older have already been vaccinated in Singapore, and the government is looking at inoculating children early next year. While those who prefer to remain unvaccinated will be barred from entering public places and the government will tighten rules and initiate COVID-19 curbs for them. Thus, inoculating the entire population could prove to be the supporting pillar as Singapore reopens.

A fully vaccinated individual as per the Ministry of Health (MOH) guidelines, includes those who have received not only the vaccines approved for use in Singapore, but also those listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO). There are countries worldwide facing vaccine disparity where millions can’t choose which shots they receive, and countries being selective about which shots are recognized leaves them with limited travel options.

Table: Most Recognized Vaccines

VaccineApproved by Number of Countries Approved by the Ministry of Health Singapore (MOH)Approved by World Health Organization (WHO)
Vaxzevria (Oxford/AstraZeneca)121NoYes
Comirnaty (Pfizer-BioNTech)97YesYes
Sputnik V71NoNo
Spikevax (Moderna)68YesYes
Sinopharm60NoYes
Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)59NoYes
Covishield45NoYes
CoronaVac (Sinovac)39NoYes
Covaxin9NoNo

 
SUCCESSFUL TRAVEL PROGRAM TO RECOVERY

Singapore’s travel program for fully vaccinated people began September 8, 2021, with Germany and Brunei as part of a gradual easing of its COVID-19 border controls. “We have had successful pilots of Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) with Germany and Brunei to facilitate the entry of fully vaccinated individuals into Singapore for business and leisure,” said the Minister for Trade and Industry of Singapore, Gan Kim Yong on October 7, 2021. Fully vaccinated travelers from Germany or Brunei also won’t be subjected to the additional Singapore travel restrictions such as additional tests at arrival, quarantine mandates, etc.

Arrival restrictions into Singapore are still stringent for travelers coming from different countries across the world. As borders remain largely closed to key Asian countries, Singapore is discussing two-way quarantine-free travel with several more countries. Philip Goh, Asia-Pacific vice president for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) commented on the scenario, “We hope this further easing of measures and expansion of Singapore’s border reopening will spur other markets to similarly navigate their pathways towards restarting air travel.” The country has hit some roadblocks on its adaptation to an endemic, as the population was focused on avoiding it for nearly two years. But as Singapore reopens the high vaccination coverage showcases that people will be better protected from the virus in the coming future.

Image Credits:  Photo by Timo Wagner on Unsplash