Singapore to 'carefully restore' air links with China; PPE requirements stepped up for Changi Airport staff
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements have been stepped up for all workers with passenger-facing and janitorial duties.
SINGAPORE: Singapore will “carefully restore” air connectivity with China while monitoring the evolving COVID-19 situation globally, Transport Minister S Iswaran said in Parliament on Monday (Jan 9), a day after China reopened its borders.
At the same time, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements have been stepped up for all Changi Airport workers in passenger-facing and janitorial duties.
"Throughout this process, our top priority has been protecting the health of our aviation workers, travellers and the broader community," said Mr Iswaran in a ministerial statement.
"The Changi aviation community stakeholders are also making a concerted push to ensure airport workers are well protected by keeping their vaccination up to date," he added, noting that airport workers can also get their booster shots at the new facility at the Raffles Medical clinic at Terminal 3.
“As of now, almost 100 per cent of the workers have attained minimum protection as defined by the Ministry of Health, and about half have up-to-date protection."
RESTORING AIR CONNECTIVITY WITH CHINA
With the number of weekly flights at Changi Airport having recovered to nearly 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, there were 25 weekly flights between China and Singapore as of the end of October 2022, said Mr Iswaran.
This increased to 36 weekly flights around mid-December last year.
There are currently 38 weekly flights between the two countries, including two recently approved flights to Beijing. This works out to an average of five to six flights between Singapore and China per day at Changi.
“To put this in context, it is less than 10 per cent of the number of flights pre-COVID between China and Singapore … and about 1.5 per cent of the total flights handled by Changi today,” explained Mr Iswaran.
“We receive between 700 and 1,000 inbound passengers from China daily, which again is about 1 to 1.5 per cent of the total daily arrivals at Changi – and this is also less than 10 per cent of our pre-COVID levels."
More than 60 per cent of these travellers from China are Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders, Mr Iswaran said.
He noted that Singapore and Chinese airlines have applied to operate more flights between the two countries, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is evaluating these applications.
Singapore has “paced the resumption of flights” to ensure that Changi Airport has the capacity to support the anticipated flight and passenger flows, he said.
“This has given our aviation stakeholders valuable lead time to build up their capacity, while recruiting and training their workforce,” he added.
“As China reopens its borders, we will continue with this cautious approach to ensure that Changi Airport has the capacity to manage the ramp-up in flights, provide clarity and certainty to airlines, and ensure that passengers have a safe and smooth experience.”
Mr Iswaran said aviation authorities stand ready to respond quickly if there is a material change in the Health Ministry's risk assessment, such as the emergence of a new variant of concern.
"This is the new normal for aviation as we emerge from COVID-19,” he added.
SURGE OF TRAVELLERS "UNLIKELY" IN THE NEAR TERM
In response to questions from Members of Parliament about when flights to and from China would return to pre-pandemic volumes, Mr Iswaran said he could not give a specific timeframe, adding that there are several variables to consider.
These include the public health situation as well as Changi Airport’s ability to manage increases in the number of passengers.
“We want to restore air connectivity with China and we welcome the latest announcements and moves by China. But in the near term, if you ask me will there be a surge? I think unlikely, but neither will we be at a standstill,” said Mr Iswaran.
“Our desire is really to do this in a systematic, calibrated manner. Because the destination, whilst important, I think the journey even more so at this juncture.”
Mr Melvin Yong (PAP-Radin Mas) earlier asked Health Minister Ong Ye Kung whether Singapore would consider testing wastewater samples taken from international aircraft entering Singapore to track emerging new variants. Wastewater tests are usually done for residential premises such as dormitories and housing estates.
Mr Ong replied that wastewater testing detects only viral fragments from solid waste and not urine. A flight from China to Singapore is of relatively short duration and hence will be of limited use, he added.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa (PAP-Bukit Panjang) asked about the purpose of SG arrival cards, which all travellers to Singapore are required to submit before arriving in Singapore.
Noting that the card includes generic questions such as if a traveller has come from a certain country, and if a traveller has been unwell, Mr Liang said that a person who says “yes” to these will still be granted entry with no follow-up.
Mr Ong replied that Singapore always had the SG arrival card, and that it was not for COVID-19 but for other diseases.
He added that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical card became digital.
“In that process, MOH has gone through with (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) very thoroughly and reduced the questions to (the) bare minimum to the extent that the member feels may not be so helpful," Mr Ong said.
“But the purpose is this, it’s not targeted at COVID but targeted at (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), at Ebola at all kinds ... monkeypox ... that can arise and can infect travellers so while travellers declare whether they feel well or unwell, the fact is they leave behind a contact,” said Mr Ong.
“It is one of those things we keep in the background, useful to have and if we need to trigger some action, the information will be valuable,” he added.