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New VTLs added as Singapore reopens

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(Clockwise from top left) Hong Kong, Thailand, Qatar and the Philippines. The expansion in the VTL scheme will effectively end a three-month pause in the reopening of Singapore’s borders. AFP

New VTLs added as Singapore reopens

Vaccinated travellers will be able to fly into Singapore from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE without quarantine from February 25, following an expansion in the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

Vaccinated travellers will soon also be able to fly into Singapore from all cities in Thailand without quarantine.

From March 4, Singapore will also start VTLs for Israel and Philippines to establish two-way quarantine-free travel with these two countries.

These changes come as Singapore pivots its border control measures to ensuring that visitors to the island state are well protected from Covid-19 so that they do not burden the healthcare system should they get infected here, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on February 16.

More people will be allowed to enter Singapore under the quarantine-free travel scheme as well, with the government progressively lifting a 50 per cent cap on the number of VTL travellers that had been in place since December.

From February 22, VTL travellers and those from countries and places deemed to be of low Covid-19 risk, will be able to take a supervised antigen rapid test (ART) within 24 hours of their arrival, instead of having to go through a polymerase chain reaction test that is more costly.

VTL travellers will also no longer need to undergo a seven-day self-supervised ART testing regime after arrival.

The moves, announced by the multi-ministry task force handling the Covid-19 pandemic on February 16, effectively ends a three-month pause in the reopening of Singapore’s borders.

They are also the first steps in Singapore’s move towards opening up to all vaccinated travellers.

The lone tightening of border restriction is with Hong Kong, as Singapore will stop its unilateral opening arrangement with the city following the Health Ministry’s review of the public health situation there.

Applications for quarantine-free entry for Hong Kong travellers into Singapore will cease from February 17. Instead, a new VTL will be started for Hong Kong from 11.59pm on February 21.

The move means that only vaccinated travellers from Hong Kong can enter Singapore without quarantine, as opposed to all travellers.

The VTLs with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were supposed to start in early December, but they were deferred owing to their proximity to countries which experienced the initial waves of the Omicron variant.

Travellers from these three countries can apply for the pass to tap the VTLs to enter Singapore from 10am on February 22.

Ong said at the press conference that imported infections are now at about 1 per cent of the total case count daily, and thus have no significant impact on Singapore’s epidemic situation.

Instead of VTLs with selected countries, Singapore should transition towards opening up for all vaccinated travellers, he added. Instead of an abrupt change, Singapore will take the first step now by simplifying the current border restrictions for non-VTL travellers.

The Government will introduce a new General Travel category, which will replace the existing Category II, III and IV in Singapore’s border risk classification system.

This means that countries will be placed in one of three distinct groups in terms of border restrictions.

The first is Category 1 countries and regions deemed to be at lowest risk of Covid-19 infections.

The second is a General Travel category consisting of countries that Singapore has started VTLs for, together with non-VTL countries and regions. The third is a new restricted category which will include countries that warrant stricter border measures owing to developing Covid-19 situations.

THE STRAITS TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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