Singaporeans excited at prospect of quarantine-free travel to and from Australia, but worry plan may be scuppered

Quarantine-free travel between Singapore and Australia could begin soon, starting with students and business travellers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. ― Reuters pic
Quarantine-free travel between Singapore and Australia could begin soon, starting with students and business travellers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. ― Reuters pic

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SINGAPORE, Oct 23 — Even though Camilla Ong, a Singaporean student enrolled in an Australian university, may be able to travel back Down Under to continue her studies with the establishment of a travel lane, she is still “kind of scared” to celebrate.

The third-year student at the University of Melbourne told TODAY: “(I’m) honestly glad to hear some good news after some time I want to celebrate but low-key. I don't know if I should celebrate because the chances of further delays are high.”

Ong, 23, returned to Singapore in March last year when the lockdown began in Melbourne to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

It was the same for another third year student at the University of Melbourne, Aloysius Low. The 23-year-old flew back here as he deemed it safer as cases were more under control in Singapore at that point.

“I’m definitely glad to hear that there are plans between Singapore and Australia allowing international students to travel back in, but I'm taking a more neutral stand to it as my biggest concern will be that it will be delayed again, which I really hope it will not,” he said.

These sentiments seem to be shared by other Singaporeans as well who have work or study ties in Australia.

Haziq Matin, a 26-year-old engineer working in Brisbane, said he has an unsettling feeling that he may not be able to return to Australia once he leaves its borders given that he is not an Australian citizen or permanent resident (PR).

He noted the previous occasions a travel lane between the two countries has been broached, only for the idea to be put on the backburner.

This is even though Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed yesterday (October 22) that quarantine-free flights for fully vaccinated travellers between the two countries would likely start from November.

“It’s Australia. I have a feeling ScoMo (a nickname for Mr Morrison) might take back his words,” he said.

Morrison, who faces an election in the next few months, has kept Australia’s external borders largely closed throughout the pandemic until recent announcements to open them up. That has meant thousands of Australians living abroad have been unable to return.

Singaporeans TODAY spoke to — both students and working adults — were generally excited about the possibility of being able to travel between the two countries again.

The arrangement will first be focused on allowing vaccinated students and business travellers to travel freely between the two countries, before opening up to tourists, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

Australia is in the “final stages” of concluding the agreement with Singapore, said Morrison, who added that it will also be dependent on whether Australian states ease their quarantine measures that have been in place for all international travellers.

“I’m pretty excited and ecstatic to be able to go back,” said Ong. 

“My friends and I did not anticipate that the borders were going to be closed this long. Online learning isn’t as effective and fun so it would be nice to be able to attend classes and school events in person again.” 

Reuniting with loved ones

Jen Loh, a 52-year-old payroll consultant who lives in Melbourne and has been an Australian PR for 10 years, said before the pandemic, she had been able to meet her family on average once a year, either in Australia or Singapore.

But the pandemic derailed all such travel options.

The last time she saw her family in Singapore was in November 2019. And she hopes to return to the Republic soon to visit her elderly mother.

“(It has been a) very long two years. We communicate by phone and video call or zoom with the rest of the family and siblings. It’s very very different,” she said.

Dan Kasmir, 28, said he has not been back in Singapore for three years, and he can’t wait for the travel lane to kick off as it has been delayed “far too many times”.

The automotive mechanic, who has been living in Melbourne for six years, said he did not return to the city-state as he was worried he would not be allowed back to Australia as he was still waiting for his PR status to be approved.

“Would be lying to myself if I'd say I wasn't excited about it,” he said.

“Pre-Covid, I'll always have family and friends coming every year. It's always nice to see familiar faces from Singapore here in Melbourne. I'm definitely excited and looking forward to going back to Singapore for a well deserved break,” Kasmir added.

Kristie Loke, who works as a marketing and social media lead in Melbourne, told TODAY she is in “disbelief but so incredibly happy” at the thought of reuniting with her loved ones. She has not been home since February last year.

Loke, 26, said that she stayed put in Australia knowing that strict border restrictions would be enforced, as her job and financial decisions such as rent would be affected indefinitely if she had chosen to return to Singapore.

“I’m hopeful but I’m trying to manage my expectations in case it doesn’t happen. But I will definitely feel more excited once it gets finalised.”

After enrolling at Curtin University in Perth in 2018, Karleef Abdullah, 28, has not been back home since and told TODAY that being able to see his family would definitely be an emotional and uplifting experience.

“It helps us to recuperate and be actively involved in our role as a brother or son,” said the 28-year-old.

Another student, Ramsay Chow, said he decided to stay put in Melbourne as he did not want to go through remote learning from Singapore.

“I was homesick for awhile but after I got through that, the desire of returning back to Singapore waned as I have been attuned to the 262 days of lockdown,” he said, referring to the cumulative period Melbourne has been in lockdown.

“However I am still looking forward to the chance of coming back home. I have not been back for almost two years,” the third year Monash University student said.

“I hope that borders will open soon just in time for term break and that the travel process will be easy.”

Although Lu Danlin, 40, who lives in Melbourne, is eager to travel to Singapore, she is not qualified to participate in this scheme as she is not yet vaccinated.

The last time she saw her family was in early 2019 when she went back to celebrate Chinese New Year with them.

The demand planner, who has been living in Australia for 25 years, said that she would ideally like to avoid getting vaccinated as long as possible as she prefers to have a choice over her own immunity.

“I am prioritising my health above travel at the moment now,” she said.

However, she said if she can no longer hold off travelling to see her family back in Singapore, and if the requirements then still only allow those who are inoculated to travel, she would take the jab.

“So I am waiting to see how governments around the world play that card,” she added. ― TODAY

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