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COVID-19: What is preventing countries lifting border restrictions to travellers from Singapore?

COVID-19: What is preventing countries lifting border restrictions to travellers from Singapore?

People wearing face masks are seen at Singapore Changi Airport on Nov 2, 2020. (Photo: Try Sutrisno Foo)

SINGAPORE: While Singapore has relaxed restrictions on travellers arriving from a few countries and territories with low COVID-19 rates of infections, so far Hong Kong is the only one which is putting in place reciprocal arrangements.

From Friday (Nov 6), Singapore has accepted visitors from mainland China without the need for stay-home notices.

This means that general travellers from five countries can now enter Singapore: Mainland China, Australia, Brunei, New Zealand and Vietnam. Authorities here have said that the risk of importing COVID-19 cases from these places is low.

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However, Hong Kong is so far the only destination which is opening up to travellers from Singapore with the establishment of a travel bubble, possibly by the end of the month.

With many people in Singapore keen to venture overseas for a holiday, questions have been asked about what is stopping China, Australia, Brunei, New Zealand and Vietnam from putting in place similar arrangements.

Professor Dale Fisher, an infectious diseases expert from the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine said that Singapore now has mask-wearing and systems in place to shut down transmission, and has very few COVID-19 cases each week.

"We see the economic and societal impact of closed borders as something that is important and can be safely addressed without compromising health," he said.

This is not the case with other countries, even those with low infection rates. 

"It seems other countries (some with zero cases and possible eradication) fear their current capacities to manage an imported case and are very risk averse," Prof Fisher said in emailed responses to CNA's queries..

"At this stage I believe they fear uncontrolled transmission should even one case appear. We feel that the very small risk is worth the enormous benefits of loosening border restrictions with very low risk countries."

He thinks that other countries will have to loosen their borders eventually to mitigate the economic and societal impacts of tight border restrictions.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said that the countries Singapore has opened to are mostly large and the impact of Singapore travellers on their economies is probably relatively small in absolute terms, so it may not be a high priority for them to open themselves up to visitors from here.

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READ: 7 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore, all imported

He said that the risk in Singapore is now probably a lot lower than it appears. 

"The headline figure (total number of infections) is high because of the dormitory outbreaks, but recreational travellers have a much lower risk than dormitory residents to have infection," he said. 

"Also, currently we’re still seeing infections, but these are mostly now in travellers into Singapore, and therefore do not reflect community transmission. These imported cases still appear in our national numbers."

TRAVELLERS TO SINGAPORE

On Friday, Singapore welcomed 22 visitors from mainland China following the lifting of border restrictions for short-term visitors from the country, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said on Saturday.

When these travellers enter Singapore, they have to take a COVID-19 test and they can go about their activities here without having to serve a stay-home notice if the test is negative.

They need to apply for an Air Travel Pass (ATP) from Singapore and they must also have remained in the country they flew from in the last 14 days to qualify.

Visitors must download and register for the TraceTogether app on their mobile devices before departing for Singapore, keep it activated during their stay here, and not delete it for 14 consecutive days after leaving Singapore.

Since Sep 1, when the ATP applications opened, 2,613 have been issued to applicants from Australia, Brunei, mainland China, New Zealand and Vietnam. 

Of these, 811 passengers had entered Singapore as at Nov 6 – 106 from Australia, 232 from Brunei, 22 from Mainland China, 115 from New Zealand and 336 from Vietnam. 

Another 1,465 passengers have yet to travel, and 337 ATPs have expired. All of the visitors on ATPs who have arrived in Singapore have tested negative for COVID-19.

The embassies and authorities of mainland China, New Zealand and Australia confirmed to CNA that their border restrictions - including quarantine for overseas visitors - remain in place. Vietnamese and Bruneian authorities did not respond to queries.

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"New Zealand’s border restrictions remain in place for most travellers apart from New Zealand citizens and residents and people who have been granted an exception to travel to New Zealand," said an Immigration New Zealand spokesperson. 

"This is to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of New Zealand’s population."

She added that New Zealand is in regular contact with Singapore as a close partner on both countries’ COVID situations and responses, but travellers from Singapore currently still need to be granted a border exception before they are able to travel to New Zealand.

New Zealand and Brunei had been the first two countries Singapore had lifted border controls for back in August.

READ: Singapore to waive stay-home notice for New Zealand and Brunei travellers, will test them for COVID-19 on arrival

A spokesperson from the Australian Border Force said that any decision on opening the Australian border will be made and announced by their government in due course.

An attache from the Chinese embassy in Singapore said that "the policy of entering China is decided  in view of the regional and global COVID-19 situation". 

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Source: CNA/hm

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