The Singapore Government has started to lay out its roadmap towards a quarantine-free option for those arriving from selected countries starting in September 2021, marking the first time a specific timeline has been set out for the country’s wider border reopening.
The policy shift is possible due to projections for 80% of the resident population to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in just over a month from now.
As a result, Singapore will become the most vaccinated financial hub in the world, allowing it to press ahead with its plan to turn pandemic into endemic and live with COVID-19 in a similar way health authorities currently deal with viruses like influenza.
As vaccination rates increase, there may also be an easing of group gathering restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals, allowing them to dine out at restaurants and attend gyms in early August, ahead of the planned easing for all residents later in the month.
“By around early September we expect to vaccinate about 80% of our population with two doses… we will then be able to ease the restrictions further.
“We will also begin to reopen our borders, especially for vaccinated persons to travel.
“We will start by establishing travel corridors with countries or regions that have managed COVID-19 well, and where the infection is similarly under control.
“Fully vaccinated persons would then be able to travel to these countries or regions without needing to serve the full 14 day Stay Home Notice (SHN) in a hotel when they return.”Lawrence Wong, Singapore Finance Minister
As of 25th July 2021, three-quarters of Singapore residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with over half now fully immunised.
In addition, 67,970 residents have received at least one dose of the Sinovac vaccine, around 15,000 of whom are now fully vaccinated (both doses).
Singapore is aiming for 80% of its residents to be fully vaccinated for ‘herd immunity’, which will require 89% overall take-up among those eligible, since children under 12 currently have no approved vaccine option.Note: Fully vaccinated status is defined as 14 days after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (e.g. Pfizer) or 14 days after the sole dose of a single-dose vaccine (e.g. Johnson & Johnson).
What kind of quarantine will be required?
Singapore’s Finance Minister Lawrence Wong briefly outlined how the Stay Home Notice requirement will vary based on country of origin once the proposed system is introduced.
“Depending on the risk level of the country they visit, we will either replace the SHN with a rigorous testing regime, or shorten the SHN to 7 days at home, and this will allow vaccinated persons to travel more freely.
“Those who are not vaccinated can still travel, but will be subject to the prevailing SHN requirements.”Lawrence Wong, Singapore Finance Minister
Based on this statement, there will be at least three risk categories, with each country or region falling into one of them.
That’s potentially similar to the ‘traffic light’ system used by some countries in Europe, where arrival quarantine requirements depend on whether you’re coming from a ‘red’, ‘amber’ or ‘green’ country.
Based on Mr Wong’s speech, the quarantine requirement for those arriving in Singapore may look something like this:
Potential SHN requirements for vaccinated travellers
|Category||Fully vaccinated||Partially vaccinated /
|High Risk||14 days SHN in hotel||14 days SHN in hotel|
|Medium Risk||7 days SHN at home|
|Low Risk||No SHN|
There could also be other categories, since Singapore already has a 14-day SHN at home option for those arriving from Israel and Taiwan (which would potentially be a sort of ‘Medium+’ category).
Where will we be able to travel?
The question on everyone’s lips right now is which countries will be on the low-risk list (or whatever it is named), allowing fully vaccinated Singapore residents to travel without quarantine at both ends of the journey.
Well we won’t know more on this until early August, when the final decision on easing travel restrictions will be reviewed and announced.
However, many of your will recall Heath Minister Ong Ye Kung’s remarks in an interview earlier this month, when he was discussing future leisure travel arrangements for the ‘endemic phase’.
“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 whose data put them squarely into this category at the time.
Since then the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant has unfortunately caused many of those places to record new spikes, some of which are ongoing at the time of writing.
That’s whittled down the likely list to only a few places, assuming this criteria remains more or less unchanged.
COVID-19 cases and vaccination status
|Country||New cases*||Fully vaccinated||Days to herd immunity^|
|🇰🇷 S. Korea||3.1||13.3%||364|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||0.0||30.2%||105|
|🇨🇳 Mainland China||0.0||~45%||51|
Canada and Germany stand out as the most likely candidates for quarantine-free travel in both directions, based on the latest data.
Canada in particular has impressive vaccination statistics (71% 1+ dose, 51% fully vaccinated), and with around 330,000 doses per day being administered the country could achieve 80% full immunisation by early September, in line with Singapore.
Canada is currently closed to international visitors, however the country will start accepting fully vaccinated US-resident tourists from 9th August 2021 and plans to extend this to all fully vaccinated international visitors from 7th September 2021.
“On September 7, 2021, provided that the domestic epidemiologic situation remains favourable, the Government intends to open Canada’s borders to any fully vaccinated travellers who have completed the full course of vaccination with a Government of Canada-accepted vaccine at least 14 days prior to entering Canada.”Public Health Agency of Canada
If everything goes to plan, the 7th September timing could fit in nicely with a quarantine relaxation at the Singapore side. Canada has approved (and therefore will accept) those inoculated with the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
The downside? Travel to or from Canada would probably require a connection in Hong Kong or Tokyo, so it would depend on whether transit itineraries are allowed without invalidating your quarantine-free privileges on return to Singapore.
It’s also not out of the question for Air Canada or Singapore Airlines to start a direct flight from Singapore, probably to Vancouver, in time for the winter ski season and to take advantage of festive traffic.
Singapore Airlines last served Vancouver (via Seoul) in April 2009, but the carrier has already demonstrated it will happily tap into quarantine-free travel options when the opportunity appears – like Copenhagen to Rome for SIA and Athens to Berlin for it’s low-cost division.
Unlike Canada, where COVID-19 cases have actually fallen over the last month, there has been a slight uptick in Germany, though it has so far been spared from the bigger increases seen elsewhere in Europe – currently sitting at 1.8 new daily cases per 100,000 population.
That’s still within Heath Minister Ong’s approximate safety threshold, and vaccination is steadily increasing. Germany should reach two-thirds of its population fully vaccinated by September 2021.
Singapore residents are currently allowed unrestricted entry to Germany, regardless of vaccination status, with no testing requirement and no quarantine on arrival. Travel can be for any purpose.
With the simplicity of direct flight options, this is a prime candidate (perhaps the only one in Europe) for full SHN relaxation on return to Singapore.
The two governments are also familiar with working closely on arrangements like this. Germany and Singapore had a Reciprocal Green Lane for business and official travel back in October 2020, before the first COVID-19 vaccine had even been approved, though it is currently suspended.
Hong Kong and Taiwan
Hong Kong and Taiwan could make the ‘zero quarantine’ list, given their current COVID-19 safety levels, though Taiwan’s low vaccination rate might mean it stays in a higher category for now.
Unfortunately neither country is currently allowing Singapore residents to enter for leisure purposes, even those fully vaccinated and willing to quarantine.
That would potentially put them in the same category as places like Brunei, China and New Zealand, with Singapore effectively saying “we’re ready when you are!” (don’t hold your breath).
Medium risk locations
If seven days of self isolation at home after an overseas trip is something that you’re still willing to consider as a fully vaccinated traveller, it seems as though a ‘medium-risk’ category will permit travel from a wider range of countries.
We don’t know exactly what criteria the government would use in this case, but places with new COVID-19 infection rates of 3 to 10 per 100,000 population, and high / increasing vaccination, may make it into this category. We highlighted these in yellow in the table above, with examples potentially including Sweden and Austria.
Regionally, South Korea could also be a consideration (3.1 new cases per 100,000), however a fully vaccinated rate of 13% could make it a riskier proposition compared to European countries.
Japan, with 3.3 cases per 100,000, could also be a future contender when it approaches herd immunity from vaccination towards the end of 2021.
One of the major details we’ll be eager to learn more about for quarantine relaxation is how the “rigorous testing regime” will look.
Based on the strict requirements proposed for the Singapore – Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble, we can certainly expect an element of both pre-departure and post-arrival testing, however there are new technologies coming online that will hopefully make the experience less arduous and potentially less expensive.
There are currently trials ongoing at the Tuas checkpoint for a breathalyser test developed by Singapore-based Breathonix, which boasts high accuracy, fast results, and costs around S$20 per test.
Not only would this be much less intrusive, the quick result would be an ideal screening method for passengers arriving at Changi Airport.
Test results take only around 2 minutes using this accurate process, so no self isolation period at home or in a hotel room would be required from the safest countries (currently the case while awaiting the PCR test result).
Let’s hope this can be implemented by the time some of these travel corridors are up and running!
Long-term Pass holders
Those in Singapore on a Long Term Pass will no doubt be keen to know whether these ‘Travel Corridors’ will apply to them too.
Since 28th March 2020, all pass holders not in Singapore have been required to apply for entry or return to the country, to help regulate arrival totals from high risk countries plus modulate pressure on SHN and quarantine facilities, since the arrival of Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents could not be easily (or popularly!) restricted.
“The implementation of the entry approval measure for LTP holders who wish to enter or return to Singapore will help agencies to regulate the inflow of people into Singapore in order to mitigate the risk of importation of COVID-19 cases.”Immigration & Checkpoints Authority
Since this border relaxation is also intended to encourage tourists from safe countries, it’s very probable that LTP holders will be able to take full advantage.
Indeed the Minister for Trade and Industry made specific mention yesterday about this group.
“We should also not forget the international community based here. Many have not been able to return home to visit their families since the start of the pandemic. It has not been easy for them.
“Therefore, as our vaccination coverage increases, and the majority of residents here are protected against COVID-19, we will also progressively facilitate international travel with countries that have managed COVID-19 well, and allow fully vaccinated persons to travel and to do business more freely.”Gan Yim Kong, Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry
We are therefore optimistic that LTP holders will be free to enter Singapore with the same restrictions as citizens and permanent residents when travelling to and from these identified countries, but the exact arrangements and procedures will hopefully be clarified in early August.