SINGAPORE: More than 18,200 visitors have entered Singapore on an Air Travel Pass from places that Singapore has unilaterally opened its borders to.
The figure, as of Apr 8, includes about 2,400 travellers from Australia, 800 from Brunei, as well as 12,800 from mainland China, which made up about 70 per cent of the total number.
There were also 300 Air Travel Pass visitors from New Zealand, 800 from Taiwan and 1,100 from Vietnam, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said in response to queries from CNA.
The Air Travel Pass allows short-term, leisure travellers to enter Singapore without any restriction on their itineraries. This is different from the reciprocal green lanes between countries, which are for essential or business travel.
Air Travel Pass visitors must take a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival, get private transport to their accommodation and self-isolate there while waiting for the results.
The travel arrangement is currently open to Australia, Brunei, mainland China, New Zealand and Taiwan. Applications from Vietnam were suspended from Feb 9 after a rise in cases there.
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The Air Travel Pass was first announced on Aug 21 last year, when the Ministry of Health said it would waive stay-home notice requirements for travellers from Brunei and New Zealand from Sep 1.
These countries were considered low-risk places, said co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force Lawrence Wong, adding that some places have been able to control infection rates effectively.
Later that day, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said this was "small, cautious step" to reopen aviation and resuscitate Changi Airport as well as Singapore Airlines.
"The aviation sector - Changi Airport, Singapore Airlines - does not concern just the aviation sector, but it is linked to the whole economy," he stated.
RISK NOT HIGHER THAN "RESIDENT COMING FROM JURONG OR SEMBAWANG"
Then on Sep 30 last year, the Government announced that it will add Australia - excluding Victoria state - and Vietnam to the list from Oct 8. Victoria state was experiencing a spike in cases at the time.
CAAS said then that the two countries have comprehensive public health surveillance systems and successfully controlled the spread of COVID-19, with a low risk of importation from these countries.
READ: Air travel bubbles, more green lanes part of plans for Singapore to ‘revive’ Changi Air Hub amid COVID-19: Ong Ye Kung
Mr Ong told Parliament on Oct 6 that the risk of a traveller from these places bringing in the virus was "no higher than that of a Singapore resident coming from Jurong or Sembawang".
This is because Singapore and the countries have the same incidence rate and risk profile, he said.
"Their governments will decide if and when to reciprocate for travellers from Singapore," he added.
"Once they do that, aviation links between us would have been restored. There is no need for lengthy bilateral negotiations."
Nevertheless, Mr Ong said Singapore does not expect big numbers in the short term as these countries currently discourage or restrict travel for their residents.
CHINA AND TAIWAN ADDED TO LIST
China is the largest source market for Singapore’s tourism industry and one of SIA’s largest markets, aviation analyst Brendan Sobie wrote in a commentary for CNA.
China routes accounted for around 11 per cent of SIA Group’s passenger traffic before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Ong said in his ministerial statement to Parliament that the unilateral openings were meaningful as they represent 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," he said.
For example, Mr Ong said the United Kingdom unilaterally allows Singaporeans to travel there without being quarantined.
However, he said Singapore is not ready to allow travellers from the UK to enter freely as the UK's COVID-19 incidence rate is "quite high".
"But we appreciate the UK’s standing invitation. So, once their infection rate falls and becomes comparable to ours, we will likely lift restrictions quickly, which will effectively restore air travel between our countries," he added.
"Remember that we are small. Our domestic market is not a big bargaining chip. Instead, what we need to have, is a mindset of generosity, required of a hub."