SINGAPORE: Singapore will lift border restrictions for visitors from Taiwan from Dec 18, said the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAS) on Friday (Dec 11).
With immediate effect, travellers can apply for a single-entry Air Travel Pass (ATP) to enter Singapore from next Friday, said CAAS in a news release, adding that they must be in Taiwan for 14 consecutive days before departure.
Upon arrival, visitors will undergo a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and if the result is negative, they will be allowed to go about their activities in Singapore without serving a stay-home notice.
As part of the contact tracing process, travellers from Taiwan must download and register for the TraceTogether app on their mobile devices before entering Singapore and keep it activated during their stay.
They must not delete it for 14 consecutive days after leaving Singapore.
They will also be responsible for their medical bills related to COVID-19 while in Singapore, said CAAS.
In an exclusive interview with CNA, Singapore's Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said Taiwan is a "very safe partner to do a unilateral opening" with.
He cited how a few weeks ago, Taiwan unilaterally reduced the quarantine period for essential business travellers from Singapore to just five days.
Such travellers must also adhere to a controlled itinerary in Taiwan.
"That is the most relaxed rule they have imposed on any traveller and which they accorded Singapore as the lowest risk country," said Mr Ong.
"So with this unilateral opening, I think it's not bad. As a business traveller, you can go to Taiwan with five days quarantine. And then when you return with a test, there's no need for SHN (stay-home notice). So it's possible, hopefully we'll get a bit more to and fro between the two places."
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From Dec 18, Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders returning from Taiwan will similarly undergo a PCR test upon arrival, said CAAS in its release.
This is in lieu of a seven-day stay-home notice. If the result is negative, they will be allowed to go about their activities in Singapore.
CAAS will also update the travel advisory to allow travel to Taiwan, and advised travellers from Singapore to check entry requirements imposed by Taiwan.
Currently, most travellers entering Taiwan have to present a negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test result issued within three days of their departure.
The announcement on Friday comes after the lifting of border restrictions earlier for travellers from Australia, Brunei Darussalam, China, New Zealand and Vietnam.
CAAS said about 4,050 passengers from these countries have arrived in Singapore as of Dec 10 and none of the visitors under the ATP scheme have tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.
It has approved more than 9,250 ATP applications.
Taiwan has reported no local cases for more than 200 days. When asked why Taiwan was not one of the first places that Singapore unilaterally opened borders to, Mr Ong said: "There's no particular methodology to it, it is just what is suitable at that point in time.”
Likening the move to the gradual easing of the "circuit breaker" restrictions in Singapore, Mr Ong added: "We don't unilaterally open to every place, every country that has very low infection, even though we trust their system. But let's open bit by bit.
"So far, it has proceeded smoothly. That's not affected our infection rate in Singapore. So I think that was the right approach.
"But I think I am running out of places. I hope to have more places as vaccines come."
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When asked if Singapore is pursuing an air travel bubble arrangement with Taiwan to allow general travellers to move between borders, Mr Ong said he would like to pursue such an arrangement with all the places the country has unilaterally opened to.
“I will be more than happy to have a travel bubble with all of them. Because we are comfortable with them. But it takes two hands to clap. Especially for the northern hemisphere - now they are going through winter. So winter is a sensitive period, you see these cases spike up … it is not a time when they are prepared to do this ... to try to establish an air travel bubble.”
Mr Ong also noted that until vaccines are widely available, many places are wary of exporting COVID-19 cases out of their territory, as this "will really diminish their international reputation".
"But things will change, winter will pass, vaccines will start ... When vaccines start to be deployed in various places, infection rates will come down and we will find that more places qualify for either unilateral opening or air travel bubble."
When asked about when the air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong could possibly start, after being suspended the day before it was to be launched, Mr Ong said: “You see, when you are a hub it's harder to keep your cases low. So Hong Kong is going through a bit of struggle, but over the past few days, their case numbers are levelling off.
“I really hope that now with more rigorous testing, greater social distancing measures and restrictions, (the curve) will start to turn down. But I don't want to guess, I can just hope the very best for our partners.”
The travel bubble was originally scheduled to start on Nov 22, but amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong, both cities said the day before flights were to begin that the launch would be delayed by two weeks to early December.
It was later announced that the arrangement would be further pushed back to next year.
CAAS had said that the exact start date will be reviewed late this month.