People look at a Singapore Airlines plane, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), at a viewing gallery of the Changi Airport in Singapore October 12, 2020 (Reuters).
People look at a Singapore Airlines plane, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), at a viewing gallery of the Changi Airport in Singapore October 12, 2020 (Reuters).

Covid-19: Not enough data to decide if travel curbs should be lifted, says Singapore

Singapore health minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday that if Singapore residents are vaccinated and the country is safe, "we hope Singaporeans can gain the freedom to travel."
PTI |
PUBLISHED ON MAY 31, 2021 07:51 PM IST

Singapore wants to resume regular international travel, but there is not enough data to decide whether lifting travel restrictions is possible for now, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday.

If Singapore residents are vaccinated and the country is safe, "we hope Singaporeans can gain the freedom to travel," the Channel News Asia quoted Ong as saying.

This could mean travelling for business reasons or visiting relatives who are living overseas without having to serve a 21-day stay-home notice, he said.

Ong was responding to a question at a COVID-19 Multi-Ministry Task Force press conference on whether Singapore would wait for neighbouring countries to achieve higher vaccination levels before lifting travel restrictions.

"Of course, we hope to resume that normalcy, but I think the truth is we don't have enough data to... decide whether lifting all those restrictions is possible as of now," Ong said.

Singapore is "heading in the right direction," said the health minister. Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the nation on the status of COVID-19 and measures being taken to manage the disease spread.

"If we can get ourselves substantially vaccinated, protected, certainly travel restrictions will have to be reviewed with a view to restore our ability to travel and become a business hub," he said.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force, said the government has "always taken a risk-based approach" towards travel restrictions.

"If you look at our border measures, we already differentiate countries by risk and based on the infection levels in these countries. So, if a country is safe, we already allow Singaporeans to go there and come back without any quarantine in Singapore," he added.

"And we even allow travellers from these places to come to Singapore without quarantine.

"On the other hand, if a country is not so safe, there are high incidence rates that are prevalent in these places, then we have tighter border control measures where travellers coming in will have to serve a quarantine in a dedicated facility," he said.

Singapore will continue with this approach "in the coming months", said Wong.

“If more countries become safe, infection rates come down, vaccination rates are high, then potentially, we will be able to open up more with these places," he added.

“On the other hand, if there are places where the incidence rates will remain high, and there are concerns (that) they are high-risk areas, then the border measures will remain and the quarantine measures will remain," the minister said.

If all goes to plan, there may be a chance for some easing of measures after June 13, said Wong. Singapore has been on 'Heightened Alert' for the last three weeks and will have to continue till June 13.

These restrictions include reducing the size of group gatherings from five people (under Phase III) to two people and banning dining-in at food and beverage outlets. "We will have to do this gradually and in a controlled manner. So, there is some chance of relaxation but in a controlled and calibrated manner," said Wong.

"On the other hand, if we monitor over time and ... we see new risks emerging, new clusters emerging, more unlinked cases that we are not able to track down and pin down, then it may suggest that this is continuing a little bit more than (what) we are comfortable with and therefore we may have to take additional restrictions or precautions and safeguards based on the data."

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