Changi Airport News

Singapore explores tourist travel green lanes without quarantine

Singapore's new Transport Minister hints at reciprocal tourist travel green lanes with 'low risk' countries, without quarantine requirements.

Could we see some overseas leisure travel in 2020 after all?

Changi T3 Departures Small (CAG)

With a de facto travel ban in place for most Singapore residents since 18th March 2020, when citizens were advised to defer all travel abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been almost no opportunity for overseas leisure trips for the majority of our readers over the last few months.

Though some arrangements have been put in place for essential and business travel to and from China, Malaysia and soon, Japan, there is still no realistic prospect for foreign holidays for what’s increasingly looking like the rest of 2020.

Some light may be appearing at the end of the tunnel however, with incoming Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday announcing in an address to ministry staff that Singapore was considering reciprocal green lanes for tourism with some countries.

Changi Airport

Mr Ong used his maiden speech to Ministry of Transport staff to highlight the devastating impact COVID-19 was having on the country’s major air hub Changi Airport, with only a fraction of normal activity over recent months.

“The airport has been almost totally incapacitated. Strict border measures and health concerns have deflated international air travel to almost zero…

“We were the 7th busiest airport in the world in terms of international passenger traffic, but have dropped to 50th. Worse, we have no domestic air travel to fall back on.”

Ong Ye Kung, Transport Minister

Only 790 passengers per day passed through Changi Airport in May 2020, though this increased to around 1,600 in June thanks to approval for transit traffic.

Of course, this remains significantly below the usual 194,000 daily passengers who would typically pass through the facility.

Only around 160 flights per day currently takeoff or land at Changi, with movements normally totalling over 1,000 per day.

Quarantine-free leisure travel

Though no specifics were mentioned, Ong said that Singapore could consider opening up reciprocal green lanes for tourist travel with countries boasting similar or better COVID-19 situations.

“A good place to start are the countries and territories where the virus transmission risk profiles are similar to or better than ours. Including transfer-transit traffic, they account for about 40% of our pre-COVID-19 passenger volumes.”

Ong Ye Kung, Transport Minister

Current health measures requiring 14-day isolation on arrival from overseas, enough to put off most travellers even if restrictions are relaxed, are also clearly in Mr Ong’s sights.

“Serving 14-days isolation is a major deterrent to travelers, and we may have to consider replacing this with a rigorous testing regime.”

Ong Ye Kung, Transport Minister

It was also suggested that in order to boost local tourism businesses, Singapore could approve tourist visitors from countries with low COVID-19 infection rates, even if those nations don’t currently allow Singaporeans to visit.

“We can consider unilaterally opening up to passengers from certain countries or regions which have kept the virus under control.”

Ong Ye Kung, Transport Minister

What does this mean?

For the moment, nothing. It is a positive sign however that with new local COVID-19 cases falling, including near zero community transmission cases in recent days, the government is focusing on how to safely rebuild Singapore’s badly hit economy.

Attracting overseas tourists here from similarly safe countries will be a significant economic boost for local businesses, though it will clearly involve a complete rethink to the current 14-day SHN process, with a likely shift to testing at Changi Airport itself.

Reciprocal arrangements should also mean some options coming up for Singapore residents keen to escape for their first overseas break in many months, though without any timescale mentioned it’s too early to get excited about this happening anytime soon.

Which countries?

It’s difficult to speculate on which countries could agree a reciprocal green lane arrangement with Singapore for tourist travel, however Mr Ong also suggested that existing green lanes for business travel could be extended to include tourism.

“We can proliferate Reciprocal Green Lanes for business travel, and also expand them for general travel.”

Ong Ye Kung, Transport Minister

That would put China and Malaysia, two countries where fast lane or business travel green lanes are already agreed with Singapore using a SafeTravel Pass, top of the list for potentially opening up to tourism before other countries.

Ritz-Carlton Langkawi
Beach spots in Malaysia like Langkawi would no doubt be a popular choice if a tourism green lane was opened. (Photo: Ritz-Carlton)

Other countries Singapore already excludes from the 14-day dedicated facility isolation requirement, and from where you can therefore currently serve your 14-day SHN notice at home, are:

  • Australia (excl. Victoria)
  • Brunei
  • Macau
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Vietnam

Source: MOH

A new business travel green lane is also being proposed from September 2020 with Japan. Singapore is also in talks with New Zealand regarding a green lane arrangement, however there has been a recent outbreak of cases there.

It’s difficult to know if the above countries combined would represent 40% of pre-COVID passenger volumes at Changi, as quoted by Ong, however China and Malaysia certainly aren’t enough to meet that threshold, so there are clearly a number of countries being explored as options.

Travel insurance

One challenge for those who may wish to take advantage of any green lane arrangements that do eventually get put in place for leisure travel to and from Singapore is the thorny issue of travel insurance.

We haven’t seen any policies that cover the cost of treatment for COVID-19 for trips taken after mid-March 2020, particularly if travel is conducted against a government advisory, so a significant cost would currently fall on the individual in these cases.

Presumably some reciprocal government-funded scheme would be in place to cover these costs in a tourism green lane scenario, for example a Malaysian citizen being entitled to free treatment in Singapore when travelling in accordance with the agreement and vice-versa for a Singaporean while in Malaysia.

Alternatively new travel insurance policies may have to be introduced by insurers specifically to cover tourist green lane travel in the region.

Summary

Without timescales and significant detail, there’s no cause for celebration yet among Singaporeans eager to travel overseas for a vacation.

Having the possibility on the cards though, and with an obvious effort by the government to move towards a testing strategy to replace the 14-day SHN requirement in at least some cases, is a promising sign that some form of leisure travel may be on the horizon.

Jewel and Tower (CAG)
(Photo: Changi Airport)

Countries with which Singapore already has some form of fast lane arrangement, or considers lower risk points of origin, are the top candidates for this new scheme in our opinion.

There is also the possibility of opening Singapore to tourists from specific low risk countries even where their governments do not currently allow reciprocal tourism.

Finally, as Mr Ong said in his speech, “Health and economic considerations are not at odds – we will find ways to revive our air hub and keep Singapore safe”.

To read Mr Ong Ye Kung’s full speech, click here.

(Cover Photo: Changi Airport)

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