Changi Airport News

Singapore to relax borders with Brunei and New Zealand, but it’s no ‘green lane’ yet

Don't pack your bags for New Zealand or Brunei just yet! Singapore's upcoming border relaxation is very much a one-way street, for now at least.

It was certainly ‘feel-good’ news for a Friday evening, with the announcement yesterday that Singapore would be implementing its first border relaxation since strict travel restrictions were imposed in March 2020, by allowing those who have spent at least the last 14 days in either Brunei or New Zealand to enter without the need to serve a Stay-Home Notice (SHN), currently enforced either in a hotel or a private residence.

While it’s natural to get excited about potential leisure travel opportunities between Singapore and these two countries, it’s important to note that existing entry requirements for Singapore residents will continue to be imposed by both Brunei and New Zealand, at least for the time being.

That makes this very much a ‘first step’ towards those potential tourist travel ‘green lanes’ alluded to by the Transport Minister last week, however there is still potentially some way to go before reciprocal arrangements are agreed.

What’s changing?

From 8th September 2020, visitors from Brunei and New Zealand who have obtained an Air Travel Pass (ATP) will no longer need to spend any time in self-isolation under SHN, with their entry into Singapore instead being subject to COVID-19 test at Changi airport on arrival.

These visitors will then have to self-isolate until a negative test result is confirmed.

Air Travel Pass (ATP)Those travelling from Brunei or New Zealand to Singapore will be able to apply for an ATP from 1st September 2020. Applications must be made between 7 and 30 days prior to arrival. More details will be provided by the Ministry of Transport next week.

Singapore citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders returning home from Brunei or New Zealand will not need to apply for an ATP and will similarly not be subject to any SHN, instead also undergoing a COVID-19 test on arrival in lieu of the current arrangements. This will apply from 1st September 2020.

Singapore will also change its official travel advisory to allow ‘general travel’ to both Brunei and New Zealand from September, however that won’t help most Singapore residents since both countries continue to maintain their current strict entry requirements, as shown below.

Brunei

  • Nationals and residents of Brunei are permitted to enter the country.
  • Exemptions are only granted for those sponsored by the government or a registered company.
  • Visas are suspended.

New Zealand

  • Nationals of New Zealand and their immediate family members, or permanent residents and their immediate family members, are permitted to enter the country.
  • Australian citizens ordinarily resident in New Zealand are also allowed to enter.
  • All passengers are subject to medical screening and 14 days quarantine on arrival.

That makes holidays in either of these countries an impossibility for almost all our readers even into September 2020, however Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-heads a government task force on the COVID-19 pandemic, did provide some hope that a future reciprocal arrangement might be reached.

“When we are ready with the reciprocal green lane arrangements with these two countries we will announce the details”

Lawrence Wong, Education Minister

Singapore already has fast lane and green lane arrangements for essential and business travel with both mainland China and Malaysia, however these potential agreements with Brunei and New Zealand could mark the first leisure travel ‘bubbles’.

Unfortunately no time frame has been stated, and with New Zealand suffering a recent resurgence in cases there may still be months longer to wait before significant progress is announced.

Isn’t this one-way tourism?

Yes, though to be fair we had already been primed for that in the Transport Minister’s speech last week, when the potential to open Singapore’s borders to low risk countries without waiting for a reciprocal agreement was raised as a way to boost the local economy.

Many Singapore restaurants are struggling, even with Phase 2 reopening

With the hospitality sector badly hit by the effects of COVID-19, tourist visitors can only have a positive economic impact, while for the devastated air travel industry even a trickle of one-way traffic is now seen as a boon.

Compliance = Coverage

One of the major concerns for Singaporeans travelling overseas in recent months is that if they did so against government advice they would be liable to pay unsubsidised costs for treatment in the event that they contracted COVID-19 as a result of their trip.

While it remains unrealistic for most Singapore residents to plan leisure trips to either Brunei or New Zealand given the current entry restrictions in those countries, the Ministry of Health has confirmed in its latest update that those following travel advice will now be appropriately covered on return to Singapore if necessary.

“Travellers who have complied with the travel advisories will be eligible for Government subsidies, and MediShield Life (MSHL) and Integrated Shield Plan (IP) coverage for their COVID-19 treatment should they have onset of symptoms within 14 days of their return to Singapore and require hospital admission for suspected COVID-19 infection.”

Ministry of Health

This is a reassuring sign of what’s to come when wider tourism ‘green lanes’ become approved, though of course there remains the thorny issue of travel insurance coverage to be concerned about, in case you contract COVID-19 overseas.

Quarantine from other countries to be halved

Currently, Singapore splits countries into two categories based on COVID-19 transmission risk when assessing those returning from overseas.

From eight low risk countries, SHN can be served at the individual’s usual place of residence, while from all other countries SHN in a hotel or approved government facility is mandatory.

Current arrangements

  SHN @ Home
(14 days)
  SHN in Hotel
(14 days)
  • Australia (excl. VIC state)
  • Brunei
  • China
  • Macau
  • New Zealand
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Vietnam
  • Australia (VIC state)
  • All other countries

From 1st September 2020, the assessment will alter, with Brunei and New Zealand arrivals moving into an approved testing regime, negating the requirement for any form of quarantine for entries under the ATP scheme.

SHN at home will halve for those returning from low risk countries, from 14 days to 7 days. Arrivals from Malaysia will be allowed to serve SHN at home, while those from South Korea will no longer be allowed to do so.

From 1st September 2020

  Testing
(no SHN)
  SHN @ Home
(7 days)
  SHN in Hotel
(14 days)
  • Brunei
  • New Zealand
  • Australia (excl. VIC state)
  • China
  • Macau
  • Malaysia
  • Taiwan
  • Vietnam
  • Australia (VIC state)
  • All other countries

For those serving SHN either at their home address or at a hotel / designated facility, a COVID-19 test will be conducted prior to the end of the stipulated period, as is currently the case.

Summary

It was never going to sound good for Singapore to announce it was opening its borders to visitors from other countries, when its own citizens and residents still can’t do the same in reverse.

The Ministry of Health dressed it up quite nicely in their press statement by saying they will “allow general travel to Brunei Darussalam and New Zealand” (and by the way, check the entry requirements yourself!).

In reality of course the hospitality industry in Singapore is on its knees. Even with staycations now permitted and ‘Phase 2’ guidelines implemented, hotels and restaurants are severely struggling in a country that has doubled its tourist numbers over the last decade, now normally relying on nearly 20 million visitors a year.

Singapore relies heavily on tourism, with nearly 20 million visitors per year. (Photo: Marina Bay Sands)

We had a mid-week stay at the St. Regis last week and it was deserted – no doubt operating at a loss Monday to Thursday and picking up the weekend bookings for solid revenue. The hotel was clearly missing its usual overseas mid-week business crowd, which must have a devastating impact on the bottom line. You can’t run a luxury hotel just for weekend staycations.

For this reason Singapore knows it needs overseas visitors. Those from the lowest risk countries will come first, even if we can’t travel there ourselves yet.

For the full update from the Ministry of Health, click here.

(Cover Photo: MainlyMiles)

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