SINGAPORE: Singapore and Malaysia will launch a vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Nov 29.
This was announced in a joint statement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Ismail Sabri Yaakob after both leaders spoke on the phone on Monday (Nov 8).
"The Prime Ministers recognised that COVID-19 has disrupted people to people connections between the two countries, and separated families for many months," read the statement.
"Given the significant progress that both countries have made in vaccinating their respective populations and managing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Ministers agreed that it is timely to progressively resume cross-border travel between both countries, in a safe manner."
This is Malaysia's first VTL.
The VTL will start with six designated services between Changi Airport and KLIA a day, said Transport Minister S Iswaran at a multi-ministry task force press conference.
Vaccinated Travel Pass applications for short-term visitors and long-term pass holders will open on Nov 22. Returning Singaporeans and permanent residents will not need to apply.
Under the VTL, fully vaccinated travellers will be able to travel between Singapore and Malaysia, and be subjected to COVID-19 tests in lieu of serving quarantine or stay-home notice.
The statement added that both leaders also looked forward to restoring travel across the land links "between both countries in the near future".
"They were happy to note the good progress in ongoing detailed discussions on a similar vaccinated travel scheme, to reopen travel across the Causeway and the Second Link, taking into account the public health situations in Johor and Singapore," it read.
Mr Lee noted that the VTL will help to revive both countries' economies, restore people-to-people ties and strengthen the bilateral relationship.
"I am very happy that both our countries are finally able to restart cross-border travel through the VTLs," he said.
Mr Ismail Sabri described the VTL as "another important milestone" in the longstanding cooperation between Malaysia and Singapore.
"The VTLs will allow travel as our two countries gradually reopen our borders responsibly by balancing the need to recover our economies while ensuring safety and health of our peoples from COVID-19," he added.
Mr Ismail Sabri said he looked forward to effective implementation of the VTL, which adds to the schemes previously developed to facilitate movements of people and goods between the two countries.
Singapore and Malaysia currently have in place safe travel arrangements through the Periodic Commuting Arrangement. The Reciprocal Green Lane scheme between the countries is presently suspended.
Mr Iswaran also announced that Singapore will extend VTLs to Finland and Sweden from Nov 29.
Singapore will increase its daily quota for the VTL scheme from 4,000 travellers to 6,000 travellers from that date, he said.
Before COVID-19, the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur international air route was the "busiest in the world" with about 40 flights daily and an average of 7,000 arrivals a day at Changi Airport, noted Mr Iswaran.
The Transport Minister said the six flights a day "should be able to manage the initial demand" for travel between Singapore and Malaysia.
"We are at a very early stage with respect to the travel in Malaysia," he said, adding that "several operational issues" like on-arrival and pre-departure testing will have to be ironed out.
Asking for "a bit of time" for the scheme to run, the Transport Minister said he was "quite sure that once we have gained the experience, we can then look at further expansion".
The anticipated surge in demand for travel is a challenge Singapore faces with "all markets" and not just Malaysia, he added.
Singapore is also in discussions with other ASEAN countries, as well as partners in the Middle East and Asia Pacific, on resuming travel arrangements, he said.
As of Nov 7, close to 18,000 travellers have entered Singapore through the VTL scheme. Of these, 17 people have tested positive for COVID-19, said Mr Iswaran.
Under the VTL scheme, travellers must have remained in one or more of the VTL countries in the last 14 days before departure to Singapore.
They must take two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests – before departure and on arrival at Changi Airport – and enter Singapore via designated flights.
Unvaccinated children aged 12 and below are allowed to travel under the VTL scheme – except to South Korea – as long as they are accompanied by a traveller who meets the requirements.
Singapore currently has VTLs with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The scheme will also be extended to South Korea from Nov 15.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article said that close to 80,000 travellers have entered Singapore via the VTL scheme, with 70 testing positive. These numbers are incorrect. Mr Iswaran said close to 18,000 people have entered, of whom 17 have tested positive. We apologise for the error.