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Leisure travel from Singapore to Europe and the USA may open up later this year

Singapore plans to open its borders to countries with low infection rates and wide vaccination rollouts, which could see Europe and the USA on the quarantine-free travel list later this year.

In recent days Singapore has been starting to outline its strategy for life to start making a return to normal, with COVID-19 eventually being treated as an endemic disease like the flu, once the country has achieved a high level of immunity through its ongoing vaccination programme.

It’s a refreshing change from the “zero COVID” concept widely adopted across the Asia-Pacific region, and will ultimately see the end of lockdowns and mass contact tracing, allowing large gatherings once again and a return to the office for many workers.

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Singapore will even stop reporting its daily COVID-19 cases, instead favouring what it sees as more meaningful data on patient outcomes, such as those needing intensive care, the same way seasonal flu is currently monitored.

Crucially for our readers, there will also be a return to quarantine-free travel for vaccinated residents and visitors in this ‘new normal’. While this element is seen as posing the greatest risk, it is also essential for the national economy, and restrictions will start to be lifted for specific locations by the end of the year under the latest plans.

How can it happen? Vaccination.

Increased vaccination rates in Singapore should mean the return of quarantine-free travel later this year. (Photo: Shutterstock)

“We can identify the safe regions, [and] open up to them first.”, Singapore’s Heath Minister Ong Ye Kung said in an interview with The Straits Times on Thursday, in which he also said there should be further relaxations on activities in Singapore when the percentage of fully vaccinated residents hits 50% later this month and 67% by 9th August.

On Friday 2nd July 2021, Singapore vaccinated 79,192 people, it’s highest daily total since the programme started in December 2020. 62,678 received their first dose, while 16,514 second doses were administered.



 


 

Europe and the USA could be among the first options

In his interview with The Straits Times, Singapore’s Health Minister identified a few places that may be considered for travel relaxation towards the end of this year, based on their high (and increasing) vaccination rates, and in most cases falling COVID-19 case numbers.

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With pure case numbers having little relevance, the government will instead focus on the new average daily case rate per 100,000 of the population in each country it assesses. For example 220 new COVID-19 cases per day in Japan is equivalent to just 10 cases per day in Singapore, due to the countries’ vastly different populations, so the rate is far more meaningful than the total.

“Once the [new case] trajectory is downwards, vaccination [is] going up and you go below say 3 [cases] per 100,000, we should start looking at those countries seriously.”

Ong Ye Kung, Singapore Health Minister

Mr Ong specifically mentioned “most of the EU” and the USA as examples that currently fall into this category, based on the latest data.

COVID-19 cases in the USA have fallen by nearly 96% over the last five months. Cities like New York already boast 54% fully vaccinated status. (Photo: Vidar Nordli Mathisen)

COVID-19 cases and vaccination status
Europe & North America

Country New cases* Fully vaccinated Days to herd immunity^
🇬🇧 UK 28.0 49.8% 87
🇪🇸 Spain 11.0 38.7% 61
🇺🇸 USA 3.8 47.0% 163
🇩🇰 Denmark 3.7 33.8% 66
🇳🇱 Netherlands 3.5 31.5% 54
🇫🇷 France 2.8 35.9% 82
🇨🇦 Canada 1.7 30.7% 47
🇨🇭 Switzerland 1.3 36.4% 85
🇮🇹 Italy 1.1 31.2% 63
🇩🇪 Germany 0.6 37.3% 76
🇸🇬 Singapore 0.2 37.3% 61

Source: Bloomberg, John Hopkins University, Our World in Data
* 7-day average per 100,000 population
^ 80% fully vaccinated, assuming the latest vaccination rate is maintained

As the table shows there are several countries currently falling within Mr Ong’s approximate stated criteria and vaccination rates are increasing fast across nearly all of them.

Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, for example, are on track to reach 80% fully vaccinated status by the end of August, around the same time as Singapore, with Germany, France and Switzerland not far behind.

With the exception of Canada, all of these countries are already accepting visitors from Singapore, with no arrival quarantine required if a negative COVID-19 test or fully vaccinated status can be shown.

What about Asia-Pacific?

Compare the table above with vaccination rates in Asia-Pacific and the difference becomes immediately apparent.

COVID-19 cases and vaccination status
Asia-Pacific

Country New cases* Fully vaccinated Days to herd immunity^
🇲🇾 Malaysia 18.1 7.3% 201
🇮🇩 Indonesia 7.6 5.1% 439
🇹🇭 Thailand 6.3 4.0% 469
🇮🇳 India 3.4 4.4% 433
🇰🇷 South Korea 1.3 10.0% 562
🇯🇵 Japan 1.2 12.1% 120
🇻🇳 Vietnam 0.5 0.2% 1,165
🇹🇼 Taiwan 0.3 0.2% 995
🇸🇬 Singapore 0.2 37.3% 61
🇦🇺 Australia 0.1 6.0% 277
🇳🇿 New Zealand 0.1 9.0% 361
🇭🇰 Hong Kong 0.0 20.3% 145
🇨🇳 Mainland China 0.0 30.0%** 48

Source: Bloomberg, John Hopkins University, Our World in Data
* 7-day average per 100,000 population
** Estimated
^ 80% fully vaccinated, assuming the latest vaccination rate is maintained

The difference in vaccination rates is stark, with many European countries on track to reach herd immunity or even fully vaccinated status in just three to four months from now, while in Asia-Pacific – with the exception of Singapore, Hong Kong and Mainland China – some of the timescales are alarming assuming current vaccination rates don’t improve.

There’s also the issue of border restrictions, with very few of these countries currently allowing Singapore residents entry for tourism purposes, quite unlike Europe and the USA who are welcoming us with open arms.

It will take years for places like Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia and Vietnam to reach anything close to herd immunity in their populations based on the latest pace of inoculations.

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Even Australia and New Zealand aren’t likely to achieve it until 2022, though both countries are promising to increase their jab rates in the coming months.

Japan is a nice standout, however. The country is currently administering an incredible 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses every single day (higher than the USA), enough to cover 80% of its 126 million population with two doses by the end of October 2021, if the current rate can be maintained.

It’s worth noting though that Japan is currently racing to inoculate as many of its residents as possible using its current supplies of the Pfizer vaccine ahead of the Summer Olympics at the end of this month, with upcoming vaccine supply “greatly decreasing”, meaning it’s unlikely the country can keep up such an impressive dosage rate for long.

Japan’s official target is to complete its vaccination programme by the end of November 2021.

Once it reaches a high vaccination rate later this year, Japan should be a very good candidate for quarantine-free travel with Singapore. (Photo: David Edelstein)

Meanwhile, mainland China has administered a whopping 1.3 billion COVID-19 vaccine shots at the time of writing (1,264,149,000), equivalent to 40% (2 in 5) of doses given globally.

The country does not break down how many are first or second doses, but compared to similar total vaccination rates in other countries, it’s reasonable to assume that around 30-35% of the population there is now fully vaccinated (840 million people).

Unfortunately, despite the low case totals and high vaccination rate, China is planning to keep its border restrictions in place until the second half of 2022, making it an unlikely leisure travel option for at least a year, unless Singapore strikes up a reciprocal bubble arrangement.

No love for the UK?

With a new COVID-19 wave in the UK since the country began to ease lockdown restrictions, there’s certainly no chance of a quarantine-free travel arrangement based on the current new infection rate there of 28 daily cases per 100,000 population, nearly three times the specified threshold for consideration.

That doesn’t mean the UK is a write-off for the rest of the year, however. The latest wave is mainly among its younger (unvaccinated) population, with hospitalisations and deaths trending only slightly higher.

“Although the UK due to Delta variant [is] also spiking up [we] are watching the situation closely but it would appear that whilst cases are spiking up you are not seeing a lot more ICU and deaths compared to before.

“Part of the reason is their elderly and their seniors are well vaccinated, and the spike is mostly caused by young people falling sick, and they don’t fall sick as seriously as older people.”

Ong Ye Kung, Singapore Health Minister

The UK is by far the most popular European country for Singaporean travellers, but is also an essential trade and business link, with 54 non-stop flights per week from Singapore pre-COVID, hence its permanent place on the government’s radar for a reopening opportunity.


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