SINGAPORE: Healthcare workers can now apply for leave to travel overseas and resume work when they return.
"With immediate effect, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will lift the suspension on overseas leave application for all healthcare workers," said Ministry of Health Holdings (MOHH) in a circular on Tuesday (Oct 19).
MOHH, the holding company of Singapore's public healthcare groups, said its review of the overseas travel guidelines was in line with the Government's streamlined protocols and new vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) announced on Oct 9.
"All overseas travel shall be subject to MOH's prevailing travel advisory as well as the national travel health control measures found on the ICA website," said MOHH.
"You may apply for overseas leave to travel on the VTL in compliance with the leave application guidelines from your respective posting institutions."
The latest development comes a day after the Health Ministry released a memo saying it is doing away with all additional testing requirements and restrictions for healthcare workers returning from overseas.
COVID-19 cases in Singapore have soared in recent weeks, placing significant strain on the healthcare system, with healthcare workers telling CNA they face challenges to keep up with the workload.
In a separate circular on Monday, MOH director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the rules for returning healthcare workers will be eased "given that we are shifting towards becoming a COVID-19 resilient nation and that we are progressively opening our borders to more countries for overseas travel".
Singapore began welcoming more fully vaccinated travellers on Tuesday, after extending its vaccinated travel lane scheme to eight more countries.
Fully vaccinated travellers from Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States will be able to enter Singapore without having to serve quarantine.
More than 2,400 people from these countries have been issued travel passes to enter Singapore as of Oct 13, with about 40 per cent of the passes issued to travellers from the United Kingdom.
In response to CNA's queries, MOH said it issued an internal circular on Oct 16 to the public healthcare institutions that they can resume allowing their staff members to apply for leave for overseas travel.
"As with any leave applications, they will need to discuss the duration and timing of their leave applications with their supervisors, and comply with any internal guidelines that may be communicated to them by their institution. If in doubt, staff should check with their institution for further details," said the ministry.
It added that the workload at hospitals "continues to be immense, and healthcare workers are under significant pressure".
"Nevertheless, MOH appreciates the hard work of our healthcare workers during this COVID-19 pandemic, and is doing whatever we can to bolster our healthcare system to cope with the surge in COVID-19 cases," said MOH.
"We also recognise the need for staff to recharge and rest after a long period of fighting the pandemic, and for staff with family members overseas to visit their loved ones.
"The public healthcare institutions will work to strike a balance for leave applications from staff so that staff can take turns to go on leave, while providing sufficient staffing for essential healthcare services."