SINGAPORE: Allowing some travellers from Brunei and New Zealand to Singapore to take a COVID-19 test instead of serving a stay-home notice is a "small, cautious step" to reopen aviation, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (Aug 21).
The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Friday that from Sep 1, some travellers coming from those two countries will not have to serve their 14-day stay-home notice, but take a COVID-19 test on arrival. If they test negative, they will be allowed to go about their activities in Singapore. Travellers must have stayed in Brunei or New Zealand for the past 14 consecutive days.
Brunei and New Zealand were chosen because COVID-19 in those countries are under control, with an incidence rate of less than 0.1 infections per hundred thousand population, Mr Ong said. Travellers will be "bubble wrapped" while awaiting the results of their COVID-19 tests, he told reporters.
When asked if testing such travellers once will be enough, Mr Ong said: "I think the starting point is not how many tests. The starting point is who ... we open up to.
"For the two countries we just listed, these are very established systems already. They have shown themselves to be effective (in containing COVID-19), very low case loads ... systems that give us a lot of confidence."
READ: Singapore to waive stay-home notice for New Zealand and Brunei travellers, will test them for COVID-19 on arrival
He said the airline industry was "quite clear" that a stay-home notice of 14 days or seven days will "discourage travel quite a bit".
"Singapore is a small, open, globalised economy. The aviation sector - Changi Airport, SIA (Singapore Airlines) - (does) not concern just the aviation sector, but it is linked to the whole economy," he added.
While this decision to allow travellers from Brunei and New Zealand to take COVID-19 tests instead of serving stay-home notices was made unilaterally, it does not preclude the possibility of future reciprocal green lane arrangements with other like-minded countries for essential business travel.
Singapore could also go a step further to upgrade such arrangements into broader "travel bubbles or travel corridors", he said.
Mr Ong said MOT is working closely with MOH and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to monitor the coronavirus situation in other countries.
MOH announced on Friday that the 14-day stay-home notice period for travellers from "low-risk" countries and regions will be reduced to seven days. The isolation period can be served at their place of residence.
These countries and regions are Australia (excluding Victoria state), Macau, Mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Malaysia. They will be tested before the end of the isolation period.
"But the list (of countries and regions) can change, because the situation can also change in various countries. So I think a reasonable starting point is to look at those countries (and regions) where stay-home notices have been reduced to seven days and to see if there are possibilities to progress - not just in reciprocal green-lane agreements but also travel corridors, or maybe in certain circumstances, maybe we can consider unilateral opening as well."
Mr Ong noted that there are currently two flights a week between Brunei and Singapore, with a combined flight capacity of 500, and four flights a week between New Zealand and Singapore, carrying about 1,200 passengers in total.
"Let's see if there's demand coming from those two countries to Singapore. I think the starting point is let's try to fill up the 500 seats and the 1,200 seats," Mr Ong said.
"So, all in all, I think this is a small, cautious step to reopen aviation and resuscitate Changi Airport as well as SIA," he added.
"I believe we can strike a good balance between keeping Singapore safe and (keeping) travellers here safe, as well as reviving the air traffic sector.
"Remember, as a small open economy, to survive, we have got to keep our borders open. To earn a living, we have got to have connections with the world. To thrive, to prosper, we must be an aviation hub."