Singapore aims for quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travellers: Iswaran

SINGAPORE intends to continue gradually reopening its borders, and has plans to restore quarantine-free travel with more countries and regions, said Minister for Transport S Iswaran.

Though the government had moved to place curbs on the Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) in response to the global Omicron variant wave, Iswaran on Monday (Jan 10) assured the House that quarantine-free travel will resume once it is assessed to be safe to do so.

In fact, the goal is for Singapore to work towards having quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travellers, he added.

He explained that the border measures were adjusted then to allow the authorities time to study the new variant, strengthen healthcare capacity here, as well as buy time to allow more people to get their Covid-19 booster shots.

“As part of living with Covid-19, we must shift to a new setting that will enable us to stay connected to the world,” said Iswaran.

“It is essential that we press on with our mission to reopen our borders.”

Iswaran was responding to several Members of Parliament, who had raised questions on the Omicron wave’s impact on Singapore’s border measures, as well as the outlook for the country’s regional air and maritime hubs for 2022.

In his reply, Iswaran said Singapore’s maritime hub has weathered the pandemic relatively well, with container throughput at its port likely to reach an all-time high in 2021.

The favourable outlook for trade and shipping is expected to continue in the new year, he said, adding that industry projections have put global seaborne trade to grow 3.5 per cent in 2022, slightly below the estimated 3.6 per cent growth in 2021.

As for air travel, however, Iswaran cautioned that the sector is expected to take several years to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Still, the signs of recovery have been encouraging, as passenger traffic at Changi Airport increased to about 15 per cent of pre-Covid levels by the end of last year, aided by the VTL scheme.

Further recovery is expected in 2022, barring further unexpected setbacks, said Iswaran. He cited a study by the International Air Transport Association and Oxford Economics which projected international passenger volume at the end of 2022 to have recovered about 55 per cent of 2019 levels, up from about 20 per cent at the end of 2021.

Iswaran also revealed that the Singapore Airshow will go ahead from Feb 15 to 18 this year, but for trade visitors only.

He added that government agencies are working closely with the organiser, Experia Events, on public health protocols to ensure that it proceeds safely and smoothly.