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More important that reopening of Singapore's borders be done well, rather than scaling up fast: Iswaran

More important that reopening of Singapore's borders be done well, rather than scaling up fast: Iswaran

Passengers from Amsterdam arrive at Changi Airport under Singapore’s expanded Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme on Oct 20, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE: It is more important that the process of reopening Singapore's borders be done well rather than scaling up quickly, said Minister for Transport S Iswaran on Monday (Nov 1). 

As such, the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme is being expanded step by step, he said in Parliament. 

He noted this expansion is informed by both the public health assessment of the COVID-19 situation in specific countries as well as the operational risks and implications for these destinations. 

"This includes whether key safeguards under the VTL scheme can be effectively implemented, such as whether travellers from VTL countries can present digitally verifiable and authenticated proof of vaccination as a precondition for entry," he said. 

Mr Iswaran said his ministry works closely with the Health Ministry to regularly review safeguards such as the testing protocols based on the latest scientific evidence and testing technology.

"Even as we seek to reopen our border and restore connectivity with the rest of the world, safeguarding public health is our utmost priority."

Mr Iswaran was responding in Parliament to various questions regarding the reopening of Singapore's borders from Members of Parliament. 

Singapore's vaccinated travel lane scheme allows for fully vaccinated travellers from the VTL countries to enter the country without the need to serve quarantine, but with the need for two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests before departure and upon arrival at Changi Airport. 

The initiative was launched in September with two countries, Brunei and Germany

Last month it was expanded to include eight more countries -  Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

The scheme will be extended to include three more countries - Australia, Switzerland and South Korea - later this month. 

Mr Iswaran said on Monday the 13 countries together accounted for about 15 per cent of Changi Airport's annual passenger arrivals pre-COVID.

On whether quotas for VTL travellers would be adjusted, the Transport Minister noted these limits exist as a safeguard to manage public health risk.

"The quota is allocated to airlines operating flights to and from VTL countries based on the plans they submit. The allocation for each country and airline can vary based on demand, but the total will be kept within the overall
quota," he said. 

Noting airlines can only carry eligible passengers on designated VTL flights, Mr Iswaran said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore monitors carriers closely to ensure their adherence to the stipulated measures and allocated quota.

He added that with such arrangements extending to Australia, Switzerland and South Korea later month, the total daily quota will increase to 4,000 travellers for all 13 countries on the VTL scheme. 

"This is about 5 per cent of the total daily arrivals at Changi pre-COVID. There will be about 19 daily VTL flights from these 13 countries, with an average VTL quota of 200 per flight," he said. 

Replying to a question from MP Dennis Tan (WP-Hougang) on whether the authorities were looking at establishing such travel lanes for all ASEAN countries, Mr Iswaran reiterated that Singapore was "in discussions with several partners, including our regional neighbours, to reopen safely to each other".

"We hope to conclude these discussions soon and restore our connectivity with them. We will announce details when ready," he said. 

Mr Iswaran added: "I want to emphasise that in these early stages of reopening our borders, it is more important that we do it well; rather than scale up fast." 

Mr Saktiandi Supaat (PAP-Bishan-Toa Payoh) asked whether the vaccinated travel lane approach was "transitory" and what the country's plans were for reopening borders in the longer term. 

Mr Iswaran described the scheme as a "pathfinder" to restoring general air travel, enabling Singapore to establish the protocols for safe reopening to vaccinated travellers.

"We will progressively expand the scheme as we gain experience and confidence in reopening our borders safely," he said. 

"Ultimately, our goal is to restore safe two-way quarantine-free travel with countries and regions from around the world."

Source: CNA/az(rw)