SINGAPORE, Oct 6 — In the coming months, a dedicated Covid-19 testing laboratory will be set up at Changi Airport as Singapore opens up to the world and encourages travellers from countries which have Covid-19 under control to visit.
In his ministerial statement on the recovery of Singapore’s air hub today, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung laid out the importance of keeping Singapore at the top of visitors’ minds, pointing out that the skies remain the “key to our economic survival”.
“What is at stake is not just hundreds of thousands of jobs, but our status as an air hub, Singapore’s relevance to the world, our economic survival, and in turn, the ability to determine our own future.
“We must open up slowly, carefully, and holding each other accountable for our collective safety... But open up we must.”
Testing, he said, was the key to unlocking air travel.
With high-sensitivity tests, the virus can be filtered out at the border, significantly mitigating the risk of it spreading in Singapore.
“On a selective basis, we can start to replace border closures and stay-home notices, which is a big deterrent to travel, with tests,” he said.
Ong added that as a start, Changi Airport has already set up a facility to swab up to 10,000 passengers a day.
With testing precautions in place, Singapore should be prepared to lift border restrictions on countries with comparable incidence rates and comprehensive public health surveillance systems, said Ong.
“Purely from an infection risk point of view, the risk of a traveller from these places carrying the virus when they arrive at Changi Airport, is no higher than that of a Singapore resident coming from Jurong or Sembawang. But as a precaution, we will subject these travellers to a Covid-19 test, to ensure they are free from the virus,” he said.
Governments of these countries can then decide if and when to reciprocate travellers from Singapore, he added.
“Such unilateral opening is still meaningful, because it is like a standing invitation. Although the other countries are not ready to lift their restrictions now, Singapore can be top of mind when they are ready eventually,” said Ong, pointing out that Singapore is already open to visitors from Australia, New Zealand and Brunei though these countries have not reciprocated.
Ong said that Singapore would also continue working on the following areas to revive air travel here:
― Pursue more reciprocal green lanes which is a travel arrangement for business and official travellers. There are now arrangements with five countries.
― Facilitate transfers through Changi Airport. Since June, 27,000 passengers have transferred through Singapore with about 2,500 passengers on transit now every week. No Singaporean has become ill as a result of these transfers, said Ong.
― Negotiate air travel bubbles with countries that have the virus under control. This is an arrangement for general travellers with no requirements for a controlled itinerary. To mitigate risks, there can be a quota on the number of travellers every day and mandatory testing.
Ong added that compared to six months ago when Singapore closed its borders, the situation has changed in several ways.
The spread of Covid-19 in has been largely under control, he said, in both the community and in foreign worker dormitories, with the number of new cases in the community remaining at an average one case per day in the past two weeks.
“This track record matters greatly to countries and regions seeking partners to restore aviation links,” he said.
On whether general travel will resume soon, Ong said that expectations need to be managed.
“For Members who are hoping to hear announcements on some air travel resumption and even possible December holiday destinations, I am sorry I will disappoint you,” he said. ― TODAY