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Vaccinated travel lanes for UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia deferred as precaution against Omicron COVID-19 variant

Vaccinated travel lanes for UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia deferred as precaution against Omicron COVID-19 variant

A traveler using the touch-free iris and facial scanner at immigration before entering Singapore. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

SINGAPORE: The launch of Singapore’s vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will be deferred as a “precautionary move” to reduce the risk of importation and spread of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.

VTLs for these countries, originally scheduled to launch from Dec 6, will now be deferred “until further notice”, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Sunday (Nov 28).

“This is in view of their proximity as transport nodes to the affected countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe,” it said in a news release.

“We will provide more details on the commencement of these VTLs at a later date."

It was previously announced that VTL applications for short-term visitors and long-term pass holders will open on Monday.

The Omicron variant, first discovered in South Africa, was designated by the World Health Organization as a "variant of concern" on Friday.

No cases of this variant has been detected here so far, MOH said.

Some countries have since imposed travel curbs as a precaution. 

Singapore has restricted entry to travellers with recent travel history to seven African countries: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

"Scientists around the world are presently working to determine the characteristics of the new Omicron variant, such as whether it is more transmissible than the Delta variant, and if it is more likely to lead to severe illnesses," MOH said in a news release on Friday.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore is tracking the variant "very closely".

"We are not sure yet, but we may well be forced to take a few steps back, before we can take more steps forward," Mr Lee said.

"But despite all this, I am confident that we will find our way to living with the virus, and safely resume all the things we love to do. We are making all this effort because we want to get there safely, suffering as few casualties along the way as possible."

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Source: CNA/ga(gr)


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