Reliability must be foundation of Singapore's transport system, says Iswaran
Authorities are "actively working" on expanding the vaccinated travel lane scheme in the "coming weeks and months".
SINGAPORE: Reliability must be the foundation of Singapore’s transportation system and infrastructure, said Minister for Transport S Iswaran on Monday (Sep 20).
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore’s land, air and sea transport workers had ensured reliable access to public transport and continued cross-border flows of people and goods, he said.
Mr Iswaran gave the example of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, which had facilitated more than 160,000 crew changes using safe protocols it had developed together with its partners.
“It’s undoubted that COVID-19 will continue to challenge us,” said Mr Iswaran at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the Ministry of Transport.
He pointed to how the country’s aviation hub partners had to respond to the Changi Airport cluster in May, while bus operators had to deal with a spike in infections among bus drivers in recent weeks.
Mr Iswaran said this “collaborative spirit” in tackling the challenges of COVID-19 - even among competing companies - gave him the confidence that future challenges could be overcome and reliability in Singapore’s transportation system could be sustained.
In laying out his vision for the ministry's priorities for the next 20 years, Mr Iswaran said the transport system needs to be resilient. He gave the example of how the maritime sector had adapted its processes to keep supply lines intact and ensure workers were kept safe.
These efforts have paid off, he said, noting Singapore remained the world’s top transshipment port despite the pandemic.
In fact, container throughput between January and July this year had grown 3 percent compared to the same period in 2019, he noted.
“That means that we are now above the pre-pandemic level, which I think is a very notable achievement,” said Mr Iswaran.
Turning his attention to aviation, the minister said cargo volume through Changi Airport had recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
Still, he noted Changi Airport and national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) were operating at 3 per cent and 4 per cent of pre-pandemic levels respectively,
This is despite various schemes introduced to facilitate essential and business travel, as well as travel from very low-risk areas.
VACCINATED TRAVEL LANE
Regarding the new vaccinated travel lane, Mr Iswaran said several countries and regions had expressed interest in opening such lanes with Singapore and the authorities are “actively working on expanding the scheme in the coming weeks and months”.
These countries and regions are being assessed based on criteria such as public health considerations - including the incidence rate of COVID-19 and vaccination rate of potential partner regions - as well as operational considerations such as the authentication of vaccination documents, he said.
Mr Iswaran said that more than 900 travellers had entered Singapore in the first two weeks of the scheme, which allows for vaccinated travellers from Brunei and Germany to take four COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests instead of serving stay-home notice.
This is out of the 2,500 who have applied to travel via the travel lane so far, he said.
This outcome is promising, Mr Iswaran said, noting that these travellers had "fully complied" with the COVID-19 testing regime.
So far one person travelling via the vaccinated travel lane had tested positive for COVID-19, he told reporters on the sidelines of the event.
The case was detected upon arrival in Singapore and the traveller was placed in quarantine, he added.
This means the system is working, he said, adding that travellers are gaining confidence with the scheme.
Regarding travel arrangements with Malaysia, Mr Iswaran would only say that conversations were being held at various levels of government, describing it as a “an ongoing process”.
“When both parties are ready, we will be prepared to make more comments about how we want to re-establish connectivity, and I think I will leave it at that.”, he said.
The revival of Singapore's air hub is critical to the country's economy and its reputation as a trusted international hub, Mr Iswaran said.
"It may take some time for global air travel to normalise. But we will do our utmost to make sure Changi and SIA soar again.”
Singapore must also be ready for the future, he said, describing climate change as a “key long-term challenge”.
Singapore can play a “catalytic role” in reducing emissions from international aviation and maritime transport, said Mr Iswaran.
“As a hub, we are also well-placed to drive research, test-bedding and adoption of greener fuels for shipping and aviation,” he said, noting the Government was currently reviewing findings from a study on sustainable aviation fuels at Changi Airport.
“When green fuels are commercially viable, Singapore can help lower the emissions of every aircraft and ship that refuels in Singapore,” he said.