Will Indian Visitors Return After Singapore’s Latest Re-opening Move?

Singapore, February 21 (ANI): Last week, Singapore signalled its intent to fully reopen the country to vaccinated foreigners by significantly relaxing entry requirements, extending its VTL (vaccinated travel lane) to more countries and tripling the number of VTL travellers allowed to enter the country.

Singapore’s transport minister Mr S Iswaran said at a press conference last Wednesday (February 16) that it is important to resume the reopening of borders and reclaim Singapore’s position as a global business and aviation hub. Iswaran added, “Our ultimate goal is quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travellers.”

Singapore paused its reopening last December as the Omicron variant emerged and started spreading rapidly across the globe. Now, as the Omicron wave in Singapore looks to be peaking and Singapore begins to understand “with greater certainty over the nature of Omicron variant and its associated risks”, it feels confident to resume its plan to welcome the world.

This confidence also stems from the high vaccination rate among its population with 90 per cent of the entire population considered to be fully vaccinated. Furthermore, it concluded that imported infections are at only about one per cent of the total case count and hence has minimal impact on Singapore’s epidemic situation.

As of February 15, a total of 389,046 visitors have entered Singapore via the VTL programme since its inception.

Starting from Tuesday, February 22, VTL travellers and those from countries deem to be of low COVID-19 risk will just need to take oneself-administered ART (antigen rapid test) at a testing centre under supervision within 24 hours of arrival. This test cost just SGD 15 (about USD 11 or INR 800). They no longer need to take the expensive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test upon arrival at the airport which cost SGD 125, more than eight times the supervised ART. The requirement to self-test every day for the six days after arrival has been removed.

Visitors are still required to submit evidence of a negative pre-departure ART within 48 hours of departure.

Rules for transiting passengers have also been eased. They will no longer need to take pre-departure ART tests and can enjoy the facilities at Changi Airport without having to isolate in a holding area.

The assessed travel history will be reduced from 14 days to seven days which means to be considered to be travelling from a particular VTL city, the visitor only needs to be in that city for seven days.

From February 25, travellers from Hong Kong, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will be added to Singapore’s VTL scheme and from March 4, Israel and the Philippines.

Presently, there are 24 VTL countries. The addition of the above six will bring it up to 30.
For non-VTL visitors, Singapore will collapse its risk border categorisations. Category 1, a general category for all countries and a third “restricted category” for high-risk countries. At the moment, no country has also been placed in the restricted category.

Category 1 is for countries which are deemed to carry the lowest risk of COVID-19 infection. Currently, only Hong Kong, Macao, Mainland China, and Taiwan are in this category. However, Hong Kong will be taken off this list from February 25 due to the recent surge in COVID cases.

Entry requirements for travellers from Category 1 countries are similar to that of VTL travellers but they do need to be vaccinated.

The relaxation of rules for visitors is a major step towards reopening and is vastly more liberal compared with its neighbours.

Thailand, for example, has touted its quarantine-free entry for visitors to much fanfare but visitors are still faced with a barrage of the more expensive PCR test when arriving. One, before departure, one upon arrival and another on the fifth day after arriving. Travel industry experts deem that such excessive testing is deterring tourism, especially those who are on a budget and those looking for a short vacation.

Following the news, Singapore Airlines (SIA) which is a major beneficiary of the reopening saw its share price close last Friday more than four per cent higher from week’s low.

The reopening announcement is timely for the carrier as in its January operating statistics report, SIAobserved a slight decline in passenger demand in January 2022 compared to a month ago. It attributed this to the suspension of new ticket sales for VTL flights between December 22 to January 20 because of the emergence of Omicron. Since then, ticket sales have resumed and VTL quota has been increased.

Despite this, the SIA Group (including low-cost carrier Scoot) reported a 126 per cent increase in capacity (measured in available seat-kilometres) compared with a year ago and a 2.8 per cent month-on-month growth, reaching 46 per cent of pre-COVID capacity. However, passenger traffic (revenue passenger kilometres) fell 11.7 per cent compared to the previous month, and its passenger load factor for January 2022 declined 6.5 percentage points to 40 per cent. There was however a 28.7 percentage points year-on-year increase.

As of the end of January 2022, SIA’s passenger network covered 86 destinations counting Singapore and about 13 Indian cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata.

The Singapore tourism industry which saw the lowest international tourist arrivals in 2021 since data was kept in the 1970s, will also stand to gain. Singapore had only 330,000 visitors in 2021. The last full pre-COVID year of 2019 saw 19.1million visitors, out of which 1.42 million people visited from India, making Indians the third largest group of visitors. Indians made up the second-largest group of visitors by nationality to the island in 2021 with 54,000 arrivals.
In 2019, Singapore collected SGD 27.7 billion (USD 20.4 billion) of tourism-related receipts contributing about four per cent of GDP.

As the country started to reopen in the fourth quarter of last year, the Singapore Tourism Board started to see tourist arrivals trend upwards.

Keith Tan, Chief Executive, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) was quoted earlier this year as saying, “While it will take time for tourism numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels, we are encouraged by the resilience of our tourism businesses, and their commitment to preserve good jobs, transform their businesses and invest in new products and experiences. These efforts will strengthen Singapore’s appeal as we prepare to welcome more international visitors.”

If Singapore continues its reopening trajectory, while other nearby countries continue to insist on visitors facing a salvo of COVID tests, there is a good chance that it will capture some of the tourism traffic which used to head for its regional neighbours.

Singapore Relaxes Entry, Testing Requirements For VTL Travellers From Feb 22

Singapore, February 19 (ANI): Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced the country has relaxed its entry and testing requirements for Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) travellers and the flights will be operated from February 22 this year.

However, passengers departing from India and entering Singapore on VTL flights are still required to furnish a negative PCR or professionally administered ART test within two days of flight departure. According to Singapore Airlines (SIA), fully vaccinated passengers travelling to Singapore from next Tuesday on VTL flights from Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai will have their travel history requirement reduced from 14 to 7 days.

“From 22 February 2022 (Singapore time), fully vaccinated passengers travelling to Singapore on VTL flights from Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai can adhere to the new relaxations. Travel history requirement will be reduced from 14 to 7 days. If the traveller has been in Singapore within those last 7 days, his/her stay in Singapore can be counted towards fulfilling this 7-day travel history requirement,” SIA said in a statement.

The second change will be that long-term Pass Holders will no longer have to apply for a vaccinated travel pass (VTP) to travel to Singapore on a VTL flight. However, a VTP is still required for short-term visitors and work permit holders.

“From February 22, VTL travellers need not take an on-arrival Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test at Changi Airport. Instead, they will be required to take a supervised self-swab Antigen Rapid Test (ART) at any test centre located across Singapore within 24 hours of arrival,” it said.

A testing notice with a weblink to book tests will be issued to travellers upon their entry into Singapore. If the above ART is negative, no further ART/PCR tests are required throughout one’s stay in Singapore.

The new changes to Singapore’s VTL entry and testing requirements follow the government’s announcement last month exempting VTL travellers from all testing requirements if they had recently recovered from COVID-19 (within 7 to 90 days of their last infection before departure to Singapore) and can provide appropriate documentary proof of their recovery.

At present, Singapore Airlines operates 52 flights to Singapore from eight cities in India, which includes daily, quarantine-free VTL services from Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai.

Singapore High Commissioner called by MEA over remarks by PM Lee during parliamentary debate


New Delhi [India] (ANI): The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday called the High Commissioner of Singapore to India, Simon Wong over the remarks made by the Prime Minister of Singapore during a parliamentary debate.

India on Thursday termed as “uncalled for” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks in which he had referred to “Nehru’s India” and to criminal charges faced by MPs. The matter has been taken up with the Singaporean side, sources said.
The Singapore PM had referred to “Nehru’s India” while talking about India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the context of working of democracies during debate on the report of the committee of privileges of Parliament. He had also referred to media reports about pending cases against Lok Sabha MPs.

“The remarks by the Prime Minister of Singapore were uncalled for. We are taking up the matter with the Singaporean side,” a source said.

“Nehru’s India has become one where, according to media reports, almost half the MPs in the Lok Sabha have criminal charges pending against them, including charges of rape and murder,” Loong said, adding that “it is also said that many of these allegations are politically motivated”.

“Most countries are founded and start off on the basis of high ideals and noble values. But more often than not, beyond the founding leaders and the pioneer generation, over decades and generations, gradually things change,” Lee said.

“Things start off with a passionate intensity. The leaders, who fought for and won independence, are often exceptional individuals of great courage, immense culture, and outstanding ability. They came through the crucible of fire and emerged as leaders of men and nations. They are the David Ben-Gurions, the Jawaharlal Nehrus, and we have our own too,” he added. (ANI)

Omicron Surge: Singapore To Freeze Flight Ticket Sales Under Quarantine-Free Travel Programme

Amid concerns over a surge in Omicron variant of coronavirus, Singapore on Wednesday said it will freeze new ticket sales for flights and buses under its programme for quarantine-free travel into the city-state from December 23 to January 20.

Under the vaccinated travel lane programme, Singapore allows quarantine-free entry from some countries to fully vaccinated travellers, who also have to do regular testing. “With effect from 22 December 2021, 2359hrs (SGT), there will be no new ticket sales for designated VTL (Air) flights for entry into Singapore from all VTL countries until 20 January 2022, 2359hrs (SGT),” Immigration and Checkpoints Authority announced.

Travellers who have booked a ticket on a VTL (Air) flight before December 22 will continue to be allowed to enter Singapore, provided they meet all VTL (Air) conditions.

Travellers entering Singapore under the VTL scheme do not have to serve a stay-home notice. Instead, they have to test negative for COVID-19 two days prior to departure for Singapore, as well as upon arrival.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) announced the VTL expansion on November 15.
Singapore has set up these lanes for about two dozen countries, including Australia, India, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Reacting to the new rules, Indian carriers said that they will have to amend their schedule in order to comply with the guidelines.

To comply with the guidelines we will have to make changes to our schedule, they stated.

Air India and Vistara are two Indian airlines that operate commercial passenger flights between Singapore and India.

Early this month, India had removed Singapore from its list of “at-risk” nations and travellers arriving from there need not take additional measures on arrival including post-arrival testing for Covid-19 especially the new Omicron variant.

India also announced that it will keep its ban on scheduled international passenger flights till January 31 in the wake of the emerging threat from the Omicron variant. According to the Union Health Ministry, 213 cases of Omicron variant of coronavirus have been reported in the country so far.

India had suspended international flights from March 23, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, special international passenger flights have been operating since July last year under air bubble arrangements formed with approximately 28 countries.

Omicron: India Removes Singapore From List Of ‘At Risk’ Nations

Singapore has been taken off from the list of “at-risk” nations, from where travellers are required to follow additional measures on arrival including post-arrival testing.

As per the reports, the current list of “at-risk” countries now comprises countries in Europe including the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, China, New Zealand, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Israel, and Hong Kong.

This move comes as Omicron has been reported in 57 countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) expects the number to continue growing.

As per the latest government travel guidelines, passengers travelling from the said countries are required to undergo an RT-PCR test on arrival in India, and will be further required to wait for the test results in the airport. The travellers would also need to follow additional measures on arrival in the country.

The additional measures include seven days of home quarantine, which will be further followed up by an RT-PCR test on the eighth day.

However, those arriving from ‘at no risk’ countries, can proceed forward quarantine-free within India, but will need to self-monitor their health for 14 days.

Reports have it that a random sample of 2 per cent of passengers travelling from Singapore will be required to undergo RT-PCR testing on arrival at Indian airports.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) restarted passenger services from 8 cities in India, including daily Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) services from Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai from November 29, providing eligible customers with quarantine-free entry into Singapore.

Singapore, Malaysia reopen border after being shut for nearly two years due to Covid

Singapore: Singapore and Malaysia have reopened their land borders after nearly two years since it was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which started early last year.
Singapore and Malaysia stated that only individuals who have been inoculated against COVID-19 will be permitted to cross the land border and also must test negative for the novel coronavirus, two days before travelling, reported Kyodo News. The restoration of travel through land borders by Singapore and Malaysia comes amid rising concerns for the new COVID-19 variant- ‘Omicron’.
The reopening of Causeway, connecting Singapore and Malaysia’s southernmost state of Johor enabled thousands of Malaysian workers and students stranded in Singapore to return home if they are fully vaccinated, without being subjected to quarantine, reported Kyodo News.
Before the pandemic, more than 300,000 Malaysians traveled across the Causeway every day to work in the city-state, making it one of the busiest land borders in the world.
As a step towards economic recovery, the two countries have also restarted non-quarantine air travel, subject to vaccination.
Presently, only citizens or permanent citizens of Singapore and Malaysia and people with long-term passes, such as work permits or student passes of the country have been allowed to cross the border, reported Kyodo News.

MK Stalin requests Scindia for temporary air bubble arrangement with Singapore, Malaysia to facilitate Tamil diaspora

Chennai (Tamil Nadu) [India]: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin wrote to Union Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia requesting him to make a temporary air transport bubble agreement with Singapore and Malaysia to resolve travel difficulties faced by the Tamil diaspora due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said that a temporary air transport bubble agreement with Singapore and Malaysia is essential to facilitate the movement of Tamils who have permanent residentship and other travellers back to these countries after they came to India. “Tamils who are having permanent residentship of Singapore and Malaysia and other travellers from our state who made their trip to India during the pandemic period are facing hardship for their return journey due to the non-availability of direct flight services,” Stalin said in the letter.
“They have to travel through Dubai, Doha and Colombo which is causing serious inconvenience and financial burden as they have to pay more air charges and travel long-distance due to the detour,” he said.
“In addition, due to the lack of agreement of temporary ‘Air Transport Bubbles’ between the countries of Singapore and Malaysia, the travel business is being cornered by other foreign airlines like Qatar Airways, Emirates and Srilankan Airlines and not to our country’s airlines,” he added.
“Hence, I request you to make a temporary ‘Air Transport Bubbles’ agreement with Singapore and Malaysia at the earliest, for providing temporary airline services and resolving the difficulties faced by the Tamil diaspora in Singapore and Malaysia,” he stated.

Australia Welcomes Students Amid Travel Bubble With Singapore

Fully vaccinated travellers from Singapore are now allowed into Melbourne or Sydney without the need to quarantine – part of Australia’s gradual reopening of its borders that began this month. Australia closed its international borders in March 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, which represents 39 universities, said the flights from Singapore saw the first international students enter Australia since small numbers returned in November last year.

“We understand these initial numbers are small, but they are a clear signal of the intent to allow many more students to return to classes and our communities soon,” Jackson said.

There are about 130,000 international students remaining outside Australia, she added.

Before the pandemic, international students made up 21% of Australia’s tertiary education students, compared to 6% on average across countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Australia’s closed borders have also intensified a skills shortage across sectors, forcing firms to start offering sign-on bonuses for the first time in years.

The closed borders, however, together with quick lockdowns, strict health measures and public compliances with the rules, have made Australia one of the most successful countries in managing the pandemic.

Despite the Delta outbreaks that led to months of lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia has had only about 760 confirmed cases and 7.5 deaths per 100,000 people, according to data from the World Health Organisation, far lower than many other developed nations.

On Sunday, there were 1,460 new infections across Australia, most of them in the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital. Six more people have died. A cluster in Northern Territories grew to 31 cases after nine infections were reported in some of the Territory’s remote communities.

As of Saturday, 85% of eligible Australians over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated, health data showed.

There were 149 new community cases reported in neighbouring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with the coronavirus through high vaccination rates. Some 83% of the Pacific nation’s eligible population have been fully vaccinated.

Jaishankar meets top ministers of Singapore

Singapore: External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar on Thursday met with several top ministers from Singapore and discussed strengthening bilateral ties and international issues.
“Pleasure as always to meet Defence Minister of Singapore Ng Eng Hen. Useful exchange of strategic assessments,” Jaishankar tweeted. “Good to see K.Shanmugam SC, Minister of Home Affairs and Law. Appreciate his views on strengthening our partnership,” he said in another tweet.
Jaishankar also met Singapore Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman.
“Glad to meet @Tharman_s, Singapore Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies. Good discussion on the international economic situation,” the minister said.
Jaishankar is currently in Singapore and holding talks with the country’s top leadership.
Yesterday, Jaishankar met the Singapore transport minister and discussed enhancing travel arrangements between the two countries.
“Began my Singapore visit by meeting S. Iswaran, Minister of Transport. Discussed enhancing travel arrangements between the two countries,” Jaishankar tweeted.

INS Karmuk takes part in India, Singapore, Thailand Trilateral Maritime Exercise SITMEX – 21

New Delhi [India]: Indian Naval Ship (INS) Karmuk has participated in the third edition of India, Singapore and Thailand Trilateral Maritime Exercise SITMEX – 21 in Andaman Sea, according to an official release on Monday.
INS Karmuk, an indigenously built Missile Corvette is participating in the trilateral maritime exercise, from November 15 to November 16 in Andaman Sea. According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is being represented by RSS Tenacious, a Formidable Class Frigate and Royal Thai Navy (RTN) by His Majesty’s Thailand Ship (HTMS) Thayanchon, a Khamrosin Class Anti-submarine Patrol Craft.
SITMEX is being conducted annually since 2019 with an aim to enhance mutual inter-operability and imbibing best practices between Indian Navy (IN), RSN and RTN. The maiden edition of SITMEX was hosted by IN off Port Blair in September 2019. RSN hosted the second edition of the exercise in November 2020. The 2021 edition of the exercise is being hosted by RTN in Andaman Sea, the statement read.
The exercise is being conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ exercise in view of COVID-19 restrictions and highlights growing synergy, coordination and cooperation in the maritime domain between the three friendly navies. The two days of maritime drills will witness the three navies engaged in a various tactical exercises including naval manoeuvres and surface warfare drills, according to the Ministry of Defence.
It added that SITMEX-21 will fortify the long-standing bond of friendship and further enhance the cooperation between the participating navies towards augmenting the overall maritime security in the region.

Singapore to start vaccinated travel lanes with India from Nov 29

Singapore: Singapore will launch Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) for fully-vaccinated travellers from India starting November 29.

Travellers from Indonesia will also be able to enter Singapore under a quarantine-free travel scheme from November 29, according to The Straits Times.
Toh Ting Wei, writing in the newspaper, said that travellers from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will be able to enter Singapore from December 6, in a further expansion of the VTL scheme.

Travellers entering Singapore under the VTL scheme do not have to serve a stay-home notice. Instead, they have to test negative for COVID-19 two days prior to departure for Singapore, as well as upon arrival.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) announced the VTL expansion on Monday (Nov 15).

It advised travellers to check the entry requirements of the respective VTL countries, which may vary. The requirements could also change as the COVID-19 situation evolves, the CAAS added.

The CAAS and Ministry of Health are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation worldwide and in each VTL country, and will adjust measures if needed, it said.

More details about the VTLs will be announced soon, reported The Straits Times.

Transport Minister S Iswaran said during a press conference that the countries Singapore will open up to are all significant destinations.

India accounted for about 7 per cent of passenger arrivals at Changi Airport in 2019.

India, Indonesia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in Category Two of the Health Ministry’s COVID-19 risk classification for border measures, reported The Straits Times.

The countries’ classification means they either have similar or lower COVID-19 incidence rates than Singapore and other VTL countries.

Short-term visitors and long-term pass holders have to apply for the Vaccinated Travel Pass to tap the VTL scheme. Singaporeans, permanent residents and children aged 12 and below do not have to do so.

As of Sunday, 24,070 VTL travellers have entered Singapore, reported The Straits Times.

Singapore in India said in a tweet that VTL for fully vaccinated travellers from India is being launched following discussions between Prime Ministers of the two countries.

“Following discussions between PMs @NarendraModi and @LeeHsienLoong, Singapore will be launching a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) for fully-vac travellers from India with valid entry approvals – starting 29 Nov – pending resumption of commercial passenger,” it said. (ANI)

Australia To Allow Quarantine-Free Travel For Travellers From Singapore

Australia will let fully-vaccinated travellers coming from Singapore to enter the states of New South Wales and Victoria without having to quarantine from Nov. 21.

The move follows Singapore announcing on Oct. 26 that it would allow quarantine-free entry for visitors arriving from Australia as well as Switzerland from Nov. 8, adding to a list of about 10 countries with which it has so-called vaccinated travel lanes. 

“Singapore is the second country after New Zealand that Australia is opening up to,” Singapore Transport Minister S. Iswaran wrote on Facebook. “This is a significant move. Families and loved ones can reunite, students can resume their studies, and businesspeople and tourists can once again travel.”

Thailand’s Big Reopening Set to Test Pandemic-Era Tourism

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also wrote about the Australian plan on his Facebook account, saying it was particularly good news for Singaporean students enrolled in universities in the two states as they’d be able to resume their studies there.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison mentioned the decision to reopen to Singapore at a press briefing in Rome on Sunday, though he didn’t specify a date. 

“Australia is open. Australians are traveling again. Victoria has reached 80% vaccination. Australia’s opening up to Singapore, opening up to New Zealand. The National Plan is working,” he said at the start of the briefing. 

While Singapore has vaccinated 84% of its population against Covid-19, it faces a virus caseload topping 3,000 per day, prompting the government to recently extend curbs on social gatherings. 

Singapore to allow travelers from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

Singapore on Saturday eased travel restrictions caused due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed entry of travellers from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to visit the nation.

Singapore : “We had previously announced that all travellers with a 14-day travel history to Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore. We have reviewed the COVID-19 situation in these countries, and all travellers with a 14-day travel history to Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka prior to departure to Singapore will be allowed to enter and transit through Singapore from 26 October 2021, 23:59 hours,” said the Ministry of Health (MOH) advisory. These travellers will be subject to Category IV border measures. All travellers from Category II non-Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL)), III and IV countries will no longer need to undergo an on-arrival Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, and will only undergo an end of Stay-Home Notice (SHN) exit PCR test, read the MOH statement.
Meanwhile, all travellers from Category III countries/regions will serve their 10-day SHN at their declared place of residence/accommodation regardless of the travellers’ and their household members’ vaccination status and travel history.
By default, they will not be allocated accommodation in any dedicated SHN facilities. Returning residents should ensure that alternative accommodation is secured prior to their return if their homes are unsuitable for their SHN. Travellers from Category IV countries/regions will still be required to serve their 10-day SHN at dedicated SHN facilities, read the statement.
Along with it, the MOH also allowed necessary workers and students to enter Singapore’s borders in a safe and calibrated manner from 1 November 2021, on the condition that they are fully vaccinated before arrival.
As part of this move, Singapore will facilitate the entry of more domestic workers, to meet the urgent domestic and caregiving needs of local households, while regulating the numbers carefully as the global situation evolves.

Singapore To Reopen Its Border For Vaccinated Visitors From 11 Countries

Singapore will be reopening its border to vaccinated visitors from 11 countries from October 19, however, India has not been included in the list of countries allowed quarantine free entry under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) for now, the country said. Travellers have to be vaccinated with a World Health Organization (WHO) approved jab, its guidelines said.

The Singapore government’s VTL scheme covers seven European countries – Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom, Germany – along with United States and Canada. The only Asian country in the list is Brunei. China, India, and Indonesia have not been included so far. In addition to this, vaccinated travellers from South Korea will also be allowed to enter the country from November 15, reported ANI.

To avail the VTL scheme travellers have to fly to Singapore in a VTL-designated flight flown by Singapore Airlines or Lufthansa. The government will be adding other carriers to the list over time. Singapore Airlines is expanding VTL flight services to 14 cities, with more points on special designated services to be announced in coming weeks, the carrier said in a statement.

Travellers will also need to carry proof of their vaccination and undergo RT-PCR test not more than 48 hours before their departure and also on their arrival at Singapore’s Changi airport. Previously, travellers had to take four such tests to gain entry.

This announcement comes days after Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s push to live with Covid-19 without being paralysed by fear. During a televised address on Saturday, Loong said that the delta variant has shown that Covid-19 is not going away anywhere. However, with vaccinations, social distancing measures and careful monitoring, it will be possible to live with the “new normal”. “It will take us at least three months, and perhaps as long as six months, to get there,” he cautioned.

Loong justified the move to resume connectivity with countries reporting stable numbers of Covid-19 cases insisting that the move would “keep us connected to global supply chains and help to preserve Singapore’s hub status”.

Singapore reopens for quarantine-free visits from 11 countries, India excluded for now

Singapore: Last week, Singapore made a major announcement that it will reopen its borders to visitors from another 9 countries without the need for quarantine. Since September 8, travellers from Brunei and Germany, which were on a trial of the Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL), already enjoy quarantine-free entry to Singapore. Starting October 19, vaccinated travellers from another six European countries – Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom, and those from the United States of America and Canada will join visitors from Germany and Brunei on the Singapore VTL scheme. People travelling from South Korea will be able to enter Singapore quarantine-free from November 15.
To be considered travelling from VTL countries, visitors must have stayed in these countries for 14 consecutive days before their trip. They are allowed to be in multiple VTL countries or transit through these countries during this time.
Those travelling on the VTL scheme must fly on a VTL designated flight which are mainly operated by Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa (from Germany) at the moment. Other carriers will be added in due course. In addition, travellers will be required to show proof of having been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with vaccines that are on the WHO (World Health Organisation) Emergency Use List. Residents of Singapore or the EU who were previously unvaccinated and had recovered from a past COVID-19 infection are considered fully vaccinated if they have received at least one dose of an approved vaccine.
Passengers arriving in Singapore must undergo a pre-departure PCR (polymerase chain reaction) COVID-19 test within 48 hours of flight departure and take another test on arrival at Changi Airport.
Non-residents of Singapore must also apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass (VRP) online between seven and 30 days prior to the intended entry into Singapore.
Furthermore, short-term visitors must purchase travel insurance, with a minimum coverage of SGD 30,000 (USD 22,000) for COVID-19-related medical treatment and hospitalisation costs, prior to travel to Singapore.
During the VTL pilot which lasted about a month, out of the 1,926 people who visited Singapore from Germany and Brunei, only 2 tested positive.
On the day of the announcement, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the nation to explain why Singapore is reopening aggressively and to placate people who are worried that this may lead to new waves of infection.
He said, “Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely. It would not work, and it would be very costly. We would be unable to resume our lives, participate in social activities, open our borders, and revive our economy.”
“Companies and investors need to carry out regional and global business from Singapore. People working for them need to travel to earn a living. Students need to go on overseas attachments and internships.”
Although Singapore has seen the number of COVID-19 cases soar to record levels recently with an average of almost 3,200 cases per day in the last week, the number of those who have become seriously ill is low at two per cent. Only two out of every thousand needed intensive care treatment or have died. Due to a vaccination rate of about 85 per cent of the total population, about 98 per cent of those who catch COVID-19 in Singapore have mild or no symptoms.
The accelerated border opening will be widely welcomed by the tourism industry which saw a trickle of leisure visitors since COVID-19 struck. In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, Singapore had 19.1 million visitors and tourism accounted for about four per cent of GDP raking in USD 27.1 billion of receipts.
Unfortunately, the Singapore VTL at the moment does not cover visitors from China, Indonesia and India, the top three countries from which visitors came in 2019. Together they accounted for almost 43 percent of all visitors to Singapore that year.
1.42 million Indians visited Singapore in 2019.
Up till now, the national carrier, Singapore Airlines, with no domestic market, has been operating at about 30 per cent of pre-COVID passenger capacity. It is also suffering financially and was forced to raise money in the financial markets to the tune of about USD15 billion.
Earlier in the week, echoing Singapore’s approach in dealing with COVID-19 as an endemic disease, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to implement simplified regimes to manage the risks of COVID-19 as borders reopen to international travel.
It argued that travellers are not adding to the risk to the local population. Quoting data from the UK, which has one of the most liberal stance on visitors entering the country, it said that fewer than 250 people have tested positive per day out of the three million passengers which arrived between February and August.
In its October 4 news release, it cited a recent survey of the top 50 travel markets which accounted for 92 percent of global air traffic, pointing to the urgent need for the simplification of the various measures governments are using to manage the risks of COVID-19. The organisation believes that wildly inconsistent COVID-19 travel restrictions are stalling the recovery of air transport.
“Travel restrictions bought governments time to respond in the early days of the pandemic. Nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists. COVID-19 is present in all parts of the world. Travel restrictions are a complex and confusing web of rules with very little consistency among them. And there is little evidence to support ongoing border restrictions and the economic havoc they create,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General.

Will Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lane Help India-Singapore Trade To Recover?

Last week, the Singapore government presented its plan for relaxing safe distancing rules as well as gradually reopening the country to business travellers and tourists.

This is in line with its earlier stated strategy to treat COVID-19 as an endemic disease and slowly easing its population into safely living with the virus. With a remarkably high rate of vaccination, Singapore is in the process of cautiously returning its residents lives to some form of normalcy. As of August 21, 78 percent of Singapore residents have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines and it projects that this number will reach 82 precent in two weeks.

Unlike most of its Asia-Pacific neighbours who are still embracing a “zero-COVID” strategy, Singapore which has no domestic market or natural resources sees this not only as a way to getting ahead of regional countries but also as a matter of survival.

At a virtual media conference last week, Singapore’s Transport Minister S. Iswaran said that the border closures induced by the COVID-19 pandemic have exacted a heavy toll on the aviation sector and related industries, which employ more than 190,000 people. He added that the longer Singapore remains closed, the greater the risk of lasting damage to its economy and its status as an aviation hub. At the same time, he assured residents that the Singapore government is reopening in a cautious manner as it wants to minimise the risk of imported cases as much as it can.

Singapore’s roadmap to reopening is being closely watched by other countries who may consider changing their strategies to see if it’s possible to live with the virus safely and a means to reopening their economies.

Singapore is now allowing up to 50 percent of workers to return to their offices and increased event sizes to 1,000 fully vaccinated people.

It also announced a plan which took effect from midnight on August 21 to group countries and regions into four categories based on their risk profiles. Category One covers countries with the lowest risk and Category Four countries are those with the highest risk.

Travellers from Category One countries can enter Singapore without having to spend time in quarantine or isolation. They will be subject only to an on-arrival Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test and can go about their activities if they test negative.

The prior 21 days travel history of those entering Singapore will be taken into account with the most stringent criteria based on the countries visited being applied.

Countries in Category One include China (excluding Jiangsu province), New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Category Two countries comprise places with similar COVID-19 risk profiles to Singapore. Travellers from places in this category will be required to undergo seven-day isolation at an accommodation of their choice.

Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders may serve their seven-day isolation at their place of residence if conditions are suitable. Australia, Brunei, Canada and Germany are in this category.

Travellers from countries and regions with higher risks will have to undergo minimum of 14-day stays at dedicated facilities or may be barred from entering.

As part of its plan to cautiously reopen the country, Singapore also announced a vaccinated travel lane (VTL) with Germany and Brunei for all types of travellers including tourists.

This means anyone travelling from Germany and Brunei to Singapore do not have to quarantine. The VTL which will start from September 7 comes with certain conditions.

Travellers under this scheme will have to take four COVID tests, one within 48 hours before departure, one upon arrival and another two on day three and day seven.

In addition, they must travel on designated VTL direct flights, must have been in Brunei or Germany 21 consecutive days before departure and use Singapore’s contact tracing app.
Although Brunei remains closed to leisure travel Germany already allows vaccinated Singapore residents to enter free from quarantine.

If the VTL is fully taken up, it would add up to 2,000 travellers coming into Singapore a week.
Business leaders are encouraged by the move and believe this will help companies as well as improve the city-state’s economic outlook.

Victor Mills, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce was quoted by The Straits Times as saying, “This is good news for incoming travellers based on differentiated treatment for vaccinated people.”

How will this affect visitors from India especially those travelling for business?
Singapore and India have enjoyed robust trade relations over the years. Recently, Singapore has been the top source of foreign direct investments into India. Furthermore, India has been a top ten trading partner to Singapore for many years.

According to data from Singapore’s Department of Statistics, Singapore and India bilateral merchandise trade has been averaging around USD18 billion per year in total value in the last five years prior to COVID. However, in 2020, total trade fell about 20 percent.

Unfortunately, at the moment, in line with current restrictions, individuals who are not Singaporeans or permanent residents that are travelling from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, are unable to enter Singapore.

However, if the Germany and Brunei VTL works, Singapore plans to expand the scheme to more countries. It is hoped that at some point in the near future, travel regulations between Singapore and India will be less restrictive.

India, Singapore hold 15th Foreign Office Consultations, discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral ties

New Delhi [India]: India and Singapore on Wednesday held the 15th round of Foreign Office Consultations and discussed ways to further strengthen economic engagement between both countries.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs Ministry (MEA), the 15th India-Singapore Foreign Office Consultations was held in a virtual format today. The Indian delegation was led by Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs and the Singapore delegation was led by Chee Wee Kiong, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore.
“Both sides reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and expressed their satisfaction that despite the pandemic, considerable substance and content had been added to the bilateral relationship, especially in trade and defence cooperation. The delegation discussed ways to further strengthen economic engagement between both countries,” MEA said in a statement.
The ministry said easing travel restrictions and resumption of people-to-people contact was also discussed during the 15th round of Foreign Office Consultations. Meanwhile, Secretary (East) thanked Singapore for their support during the second COVID wave.
Issues pertaining to ASEAN-India relations and India Singapore cooperation in the Indo-Pacific were also discussed. Singapore has taken over as country coordinator for India at the ASEAN for a three year period (2021-2024). Views were exchanged on international and strategic issues pertaining to the region, MEA said.
The talks were held in a friendly and cordial atmosphere. Both sides agreed to hold the next consultations at a mutually convenient date, it added.

Asset risks to rise for ASEAN, India banks but credit strength will remain intact: Moody’s

Singapore, August 11 : Asset risks for banks will rise in most parts of ASEAN and India as the region battles new waves of coronavirus infections amid low vaccination rates, Moody’s Investors Service said on Wednesday.
Multiple rounds of coronavirus outbreaks that led to strict containment measures will impede economic recovery and erode borrowers’ debt repayment capacity, it said in the latest sector in-depth report. Banks in Thailand the Philippines and Indonesia are particularly vulnerable as their economies struggle with elevated numbers of virus cases, heightening uncertainties around the reopening of their economies.
Yet policy support for borrowers and the concentration of the economic impact on a few economic segments will limit the deterioration of banks’ overall asset quality.
Also, said Moody’s, banks in ASEAN and India have strong loss-absorbing buffers. These factors will keep their credit strength intact.
“In India, despite a second wave of coronavirus infections, we expect economic activity will decline only in the first quarter of fiscal 2021 and rebound afterward, resulting in real GDP growth of 9.3 per cent in fiscal 2021 compared with contraction of 7.2 per cent in the previous year.”
This is because compared to policy responses to the first wave, the latest containment measures are more localised and have a shorter duration.
Moody’s said the economic recovery will support employment and corporate earnings, although the coronavirus outbreaks have hurt the financial buffers of SMEs, putting the quality of these loans at risk in the absence of support measures.
By contrast, the resumption of global economic activity will boost trade growth in Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore which will help offset domestic economic disruptions from the pandemic.
Beyond the pandemic, ASEAN and India will likely register faster growth than most other regions in 2021-22, a positive for banks although performance across the region will increasingly diverge because of the different extent of economic scarring caused by the pandemic.
Finally, the growing young populations in economies such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines could help accelerate economic expansion and boost overall wealth, which will lead more people to engage banking services.
This, however, will depend highly on the governments’ ability to support domestic labour markets, said Moody’s.

Indian Navy to deploy 4 warships in South China sea for 2 months

New Delhi [India], August 3 : A task force of four warships from the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet is scheduled to proceed on an over two-month overseas deployment to South East Asia, the South China Sea and Western Pacific, which will include exercises with Quad partners the United States, Japan and Australia, the Defence Ministry announced.
The deployment of the Indian Naval task force will begin early this month and includes guided-missile destroyer Ranvijay, guided-missile frigate Shivalik, anti-submarine corvette Kadmatt and guided-missile corvette Kora. The latter three ships are indigenously designed and are equipped with a versatile array of weapons and sensors, and are Made in India by Defence Shipyards, a Defence Ministry press release said.
The warships will participate in a series of exercises during the two-month deployment, including the Malabar 2021 naval exercises with US, Japanese and Australian forces.
In other bilateral exercises during the deployment, the Indian warships will work with naval units from South China Sea littoral states, including Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, the Defence Ministry said.
During the deployment in the Indo Pacific, the ships are scheduled to participate in bilateral exercises with the Vietnamese Peoples’ Navy, the Republic of Philippines Navy, Republic of Singapore Navy (SIMBEX), Indonesian Navy (Samudra Shakti) and Royal Australian Navy (AUS-INDEX).
Further, they would also participate in multilateral exercise MALABAR-21 alongside the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force, Royal Australian Navy and the United States Navy in Western Pacific.
“These maritime initiatives enhance synergy and coordination between the Indian Navy and friendly countries, based on common maritime interests and commitment towards Freedom of Navigation at sea,” the release said.
“The deployment of the Indian Navy ships seeks to underscore the operational reach, peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries towards ensuring good order in the maritime domain and to strengthen existing bonds between India and countries of the Indo Pacific,” the defence ministry said.
The Indian Navy undertakes regular deployments to friendly foreign countries and Indian and the Pacific Ocean regions in furtherance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region – SAGAR’. Further, such engagements build ‘Bridges of Friendship’ and strengthen international cooperation.
Moreover, it will enhance military cooperation with friendly countries which is India’s pursuit as per ‘Act East’ policy.
The South China Sea has become a hotbed of naval activity in recent weeks. Last week, a British aircraft carrier strike group transited the 1.3 million square mile waterway, while an American surface action group and forces from China’s People’s Liberation Army staged exercises in it.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, turning numerous obscure reefs and sandbars throughout the waterway into man-made artificial islands heavily fortified with missiles, runways and weapons systems.

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