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Singapore aims to allow quarantine-free travel from September

Fully vaccinated Singapore residents will be able to travel quarantine-free to and from safe countries starting in September, under the latest government plans, with Germany and Canada looking most likely to make the list.

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.

Singapore is pressing ahead with plans to treat COVID-19 as an endemic once a high vaccination rate is achieved. (Photo: MBS)

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
Time to dust off your passport? Quarantine-free leisure travel should restart to and from selected countries in September 2021. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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.

Singapore’s quarantine requirements could mimic the ‘traffic light’ system used by some other countries. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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 /
Unvaccinated
  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
Selected countries

Country New cases* Fully vaccinated Days to herd immunity^
๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง UK 56.4 55.8% 110
๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain 55.1 54.6% 37
๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Netherlands 38.1 45.9% 64
๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France 26.7 51.9% 48
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USA 15.7 49.1% 287
๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Denmark 13.5 51.2% 32
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Switzerland 7.7 47.1% 118
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy 7.1 50.2% 58
๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น Austria 4.0 49.2% 90
๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด Norway 3.8 32.4% 95
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช Sweden 3.6 38.2% 74
๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท S. Korea 3.1 13.3% 364
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Singapore 2.7 53.8% 35
๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany 1.8 49.4% 93
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada 1.2 50.9% 35
๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Hong Kong 0.0 30.2% 105
๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ Taiwan 0.0 1.0% 148
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ Mainland China 0.0 ~45% 51

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

Canada and Germany stand out as the most likely candidates for quarantine-free travel in both directions, based on the latest data.

It’s slim pickings for Singapore when looking for countries with well controlled COVID-19 case rates. (Image: Our World in Data)

Canada

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 Canadaโ€™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.

A holiday in Vancouver followed by zero quarantine back in Singapore is a likely option later this year – assuming we can get there! (Photo: Mike Benna)

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.

Germany

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.

Singapore and Germany had a Reciprocal Green Lane for business travellers between October 2020 and January 2021

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.

Vaccination rates are high in Europe, but Singapore stands well ahead of the pack in Asia. (Image: Our World in Data)

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.

Many of us can’t wait to get back to Japan, but slower vaccination there probably means waiting until at least late 2021 for a quarantine-free option. (Photo: David Edelstein)

Testing

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.

The Breathonix system could simplify testing at borders. (Photo: Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry)

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.


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Summary

It’s great to finally have a timeline for quarantine-free travel options to and from Singapore, the first opportunity local residents will have had since borders were almost completely shuttered in March 2020.

Unfortunately with the relatively strict case criteria announced earlier this month, it’s likely that the initial list will be short, with our money on Canada and Germany being included, but perhaps not many others!

We might finally be getting on board a Singapore Airlines flight on a leisure trip in September! (Photo: MainlyMiles)

An alternative list, requiring only 7 days of SHN at your home residence (or potentially in a hotel room for visitors) will hopefully open up a few more options for those able to work from home.

Of course much can change between now and September, including case totals and the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, so there’s really no way to be 100% sure where we may be able to travel later this year, even after the official Government announcement in early August.

Where would you like to see on Singapore’s quarantine-free travel list? Let us know in the comments section below.

(Cover Photo: MainlyMiles)

7 comments

  1. Japan should be high on the Singapore list. The uncertainty is on the Japanese side. They can be unbelievably stubborn. Hope I can visit Japan next spring.

  2. Hoping for Japan but not hopeful. Read that they want other countries to give quarantine free travel to their citizens holding vaccine passports but are not willing to reciprocate …

  3. The problem is reciprocity. Many countries still view the endemic strategy as a high risk one and it will be political suicide for them to open up to another country that embraces COVID like the flu.

    I also find the 7-day SHN at home for the fully vaccinated who travelled to medium risk countries a puzzling one. Allowing the traveller to SHN at home and not subjecting the household members to any SHN measures as well is just 1 degree of separation away from no SHN requirements at all.

    1. Why would it be a political suicide. What Singapore intends to do is probably what many countries are thinking of doing. Singapore will be reviewing the countries to open up to. This is not new. Singapore will allow the fully vaccinated more freedom with the activities. Well, other countries are looking at that. It is not like Singapore is opening up its border to everyone. It will be measured.

      Minister Wong did not commit to a 7-day SHN yet. The instruments to contain importation of COVID-19 is still being worked on. A bit early to jump the gun I reckon.

    1. Based on what other countries have done, we expect children under 12 to be exempt from quarantine when travelling with fully vaccinated parents or guardians from a valid country. Arrival testing will likely still be conducted, probably on children aged 3 and above (as now).

      We won’t know for sure though until more details are released.

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