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US updates COVID-19 travel health notice for Singapore after 'unknown' classification

US updates COVID-19 travel health notice for Singapore after 'unknown' classification

A woman walks across a link bridge to a terminal at Singapore's Changi Airport on Sep 8, 2021. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: The United States has updated its travel health notice for Singapore, about a week after it advised against travel to the country.

In an update on Monday (Jan 10), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reclassified Singapore as a Level 3 destination, where COVID-19 levels are “high”. 

“Make sure you are fully vaccinated before travelling to Singapore,” the updated notice said on the CDC website. “Unvaccinated travellers should avoid nonessential travel to Singapore.”

According to the CDC website, Level 3 countries have a COVID-19 incidence rate of between 100 and 500 new cases over the past 28 days per 100,000 population.

Other Level 3 countries include Malaysia, Australia, Israel, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

On Jan 4, the CDC said that the level of COVID-19 in Singapore was "unknown".

"Because the current situation in Singapore is unknown, even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 variants," the CDC said at the time, advising people to avoid travel to Singapore.

On Jan 5, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that this classification was applied because the US CDC was "not aware of our surveillance test numbers", and that Singapore was providing it with the data.

The CDC uses COVID-19 data reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other official sources to make determinations about travel health notice levels, according to its website.

"If a destination does not provide data, their travel health notice level is designated as 'unknown' and travellers are advised to follow travel health notice Level 4 recommendations," the CDC said.

Mr Ong said on Jan 5 that the Singapore Ministry of Health was engaging the US embassy in Singapore and the CDC to provide the necessary data.

"Just to be clear, we know our situation very well," Mr Ong said during a COVID-19 multi-ministry task force press conference.

"Every week, we administer over 150,000 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. And that works out to over 21,000 PCR tests per day. Positive rates for these tests are under 2 per cent."

There are also 145 wastewater testing stations across Singapore in places like housing estates, dormitories and nursing homes, he said.

"Only a very small handful are registering the presence of COVID-19 viral fragments. So we are sure that the incidence of COVID-19 in our community is currently low and stable."

In response to CNA's queries at the time, a spokesperson from the CDC said that Singapore's “unknown” classification was due to a lack of testing data that the CDC used to get from online data aggregator Our World in Data.

That information had not been updated since Nov 8, the CDC had said. The centre evaluates primary criteria data including cumulative new case numbers and case trajectory information provided directly by health ministries to the WHO, its spokesperson said.

Secondary criteria data, such as tests conducted per capita and test-to-case ratio, is obtained from sources like Our World in Data and health ministry websites. The data is measured over a 28-day period and reviewed daily, the CDC said then.

When asked for an update on the matter on Jan 7, the CDC said that it was "working with the Singapore Ministry of Health regarding their COVID-19 testing data".

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Source: CNA/kg(mi)

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