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Singapore set to add more Vaccinated Travel Lane countries ‘in the coming weeks’

Singapore will expand its Vaccinated Travel Lane to more countries in the weeks ahead.

Where's on the list of potential quarantine-free options?

On Monday this week we got our first progress update from the Singapore Government on the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) for quarantine-free arrivals in Singapore, with passengers now arriving on the scheme from both Germany and Brunei for the last two weeks.

Transport Minister S Iswaran was upbeat about the success of the programme so far, stating that “the outcome in the first two weeks of this scheme [has] been very promising”, also adding “[we] have basically operationalised the key requirements”.

“[The VTL] is the first step, but a very important step for us to understand the requirements for all those involved in the value chain, to get used to the idea of travelling, ensuring compliance and delivering the kind of safe outcomes that we seek.

“[All] the VTL travellers have complied with the repeated testing regime as well. So, this is a good sign.”

S Iswaran

Singapore Transport Minister

The Transport Minister also revealed that Singapore is actively working on expanding the Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme “in the coming weeks and months”, music to the ears of travel-hungry residents looking forward to some fresh alternatives (no offence, Germany!).

One positive case

It was confirmed to the media that among over 900 people that have already travelled to Singapore under the VTL, there has been only one COVID-19 positive case.

This was detected from the on-arrival test at Changi Airport (see our guide to the arrival process). The individual would therefore have been in self-isolation while awaiting the test result, either at home or in a hotel room.

The on-arrival swab test at Changi Airport. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

So far that’s around a 0.1% positive case rate, which is impressive.

In Germany, 8% of COVID-19 tests administered nationally were coming back positive in the week ending 12th September 2021 (though in fairness most of those 140,000+ individuals were being tested because they had symptoms, not because they wanted to travel).

VTL Recap

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is T4-Arrival-Immigration-CAG.jpg

Key Features

  • Must have stayed in a VTL country/region and/or Singapore for 21 days
  • Travel to the VTL country on a non-stop flight, if your stay is less than 21 days
  • Travel to Singapore on a designated ‘VTL flight’
  • No restrictions on travel purpose or itineraries
  • Must be fully vaccinated in Singapore or the VTL origin country
  • Children under 12 are not eligible
  • Visitors and Singapore pass holders must apply for a VTP in advance
  • Four COVID-19 PCR tests replace quarantine / Stay-Home Notice in Singapore

Full details available here

Who is travelling on the VTL?

Recently there was an interesting analysis of recent indicators on Singapore – Germany flights from ForwardKeys, an analytics company that uses global ticketing data from online bookings, travel agencies and airlines to determine travel trends.

93% of those flying from Singapore to Germany are travelling for leisure, or to see friends and relatives. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Key takeaways included:

  • Demand in both directions on Singapore – Germany routes increased significantly after the VTL was announced.
  • Demand for travel from Singapore to Germany was more than double that from Germany to Singapore.
Source: ForwardKeys
  • Singapore – Germany bookings reached 93% of pre-COVID levels in the two weeks to 3rd September 2021 (Germany – Singapore reached only 18%).
  • Leisure travellers make up the majority of those flying from Singapore to Germany (76%), up from 43% pre-COVID.
  • Surprisingly, the average length of stay for leisure travellers has only increased from 13 days pre-COVID to 15 days now.
  • More than 1 in 6 travellers (17%) heading from Singapore to Germany were expats and/or those visiting friends and relatives (just 1% pre-COVID).
  • Very few bookings were for business travel (6% vs. 35% pre-COVID).
Source: ForwardKeys
  • Advance bookings reduce significantly in the less popular early November period, but already exceed launch totals in the run up to the festive season.
Source: ForwardKeys

It’s an early snapshot, but still quite fascinating, especially the predominance of leisure travel over business demand.

There’s also the dramatic rise in VFR demand, as Singapore-based expats and Singaporeans with relatives overseas use the VTL to meet up with friends and family from around Europe and the rest of the world, who are also able to visit Germany.

Singapore-based expats are making up a large proportion of VTL users. Pass holders don’t require return approval, just a VTP they can apply for themselves. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The lower demand from Germany to Singapore is to be expected of course – Germans already have many quarantine-free holiday options closer to home, and business travel is still likely to be limited.

First and Business Class are popular

While VTL flights are operating far from full, good news for the airlines is that demand for First Class and Business Class is buoyant, based on the services we’ve been monitoring since the scheme began, with some flights sold out in these cabins.

Business Class is a popular option for long-haul VTL flights so far. (Photo: Agent Wolf / Shutterstock)

Economy Class is less popular, perhaps as people prioritise increased personal space while travelling during this period, even though business travel itself is well down on pre-COVID levels.

Here’s how the seat maps in these cabins already look on some upcoming Germany – Singapore flights this month.

SQ325 FRA-SIN

Source: ExpertFlyer

SQ331 MUC-SIN

Source: ExpertFlyer

LH778 FRA-SIN

Source: ExpertFlyer

Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa won’t be complaining too much about the increased revenue these flights will be generating, compared to the poor loads they have seen over the last 18 months.


 

 

Our VTL experience

We travelled over to Frankfurt earlier this month and flew back via the inaugural Germany – Singapore VTL flight on 7th September 2021.

Here’s a step-by-step summary of our experience, which may help you decide whether to give it a try yourself.

1: Getting a pre-departure COVID-19 test

READ THE ARTICLE

2: The departure airport process

READ THE ARTICLE

3: The Changi Airport arrival process

READ THE ARTICLE

4: Day 3 and Day 7 swab tests

READ THE ARTICLE

1: Getting a pre-departure COVID-19 test

READ THE ARTICLE

2: The departure airport process

READ THE ARTICLE

3: The Changi Airport arrival process

READ THE ARTICLE

4: Day 3 and Day 7 swab tests

READ THE ARTICLE

Where might be next?

The questions on everyone’s lips now that we know the VTL programme will almost certainly be expanded are “where’s next?” and “when will it be announced?”.

Details so far are quite limited and no particular hints have been offered.

“Several countries and regions have expressed interest in opening Vaccinated Travel Lanes with us, and we are actively working on expanding the scheme in the coming weeks and months.”

S Iswaran, Singapore Transport Minster

We correctly predicted Germany as one of the first candidate countries for quarantine-free travel with Singapore, so many readers have been asking our opinion on where is likely to be next!

In all honesty – guessing Germany wasn’t a difficult task in July.

Back then, the country had one of the lowest daily COVID-19 case incidences in Europe, a high and increasing vaccination rate, plus Singapore had already developed a Reciprocal Green Lane arrangement for business and essential travel in late 2020.

Just add vaccination recognition to the model, and it didn’t seem like a big ask to get this obvious choice off the ground.

Since then, however, Germany’s COVID-19 case numbers have increased significantly, and vaccination has plateaued.

Germany was an obvious quarantine-free candidate a couple of months ago, but now it’s hard to identify a standout option. (Photo: Shutterstock)

That makes it very difficult to predict where might be next. Several European countries now have lower case numbers and higher vaccination than Germany, and that’s going on the assumption the VTL will be expanded only in Europe for now, which may prove not to be the case.

What we can do is look at countries Singapore has already at least partially relaxed its entry requirements for, now placed in Category 1-3 of the latest arrival health control measures.

Singapore SHN requirements

21-day travel history
(can also include Singapore)

Fully vaccinated

Partially vaccinated /
Unvaccinated
VTL
Brunei (VTL only)

Germany (VTL only)
No SHN N/A
Category I
Hong Kong
Macau
China
Taiwan

No SHN
Category II
Australia
Brunei (non-VTL)
Canada
Germany (non-VTL)
New Zealand
Poland
Saudi Arabia
South Korea
7 days SHN at home
or in hotel
Category III
Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Croatia
Czech Republic
Denmark
Egypt
Finland
France
Italy
Japan
Latvia
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

14 days SHN at home
or in hotel
14 days SHN in hotel
Category IV
All other countries*
14 days SHN in hotel

* For Work Pass holders, this excludes Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

The next VTL locations don’t have to be in Category 1-3 of this list right now (a curveball from Category 4 could be thrown in), but it seems logical and likely that they would be 1-3.

Looking at the fundamental principle of the VTL scheme, the country would need to have direct non-stop flights to Singapore, to avoid mixing with unvaccinated passengers in a transit location, and also be allowing Singapore residents to arrive quarantine-free in the first instance (i.e. have already opened to Singapore).

Here’s how that looks.

Category 1 countries

Country Direct flights to/from SIN? Q-free arrival for vaccinated SG residents?
Hong Kong
Macau
China
Taiwan

Category 2 countries
(excl. current VTL countries)

Country Direct flights to/from SIN? Q-free arrival for vaccinated SG residents?
Australia
Canada
New Zealand
Poland
Saudi Arabia
South Korea

Category 3 countries

Country Direct flights to/from SIN? Q-free arrival for vaccinated SG residents?
Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Croatia
Czech Republic
Denmark
Egypt
Finland
France
Italy
Japan
Latvia
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

We can therefore break down these lists to show only countries with direct flights and those who are currently accepting fully vaccinated Singapore residents quarantine-free as visitors (double tick!).

Let’s take a look at these against Minister Iswaran’s three stated criteria, in his media interview earlier this week:

  • Infection rates
  • Vaccination rates
  • Testing regime

Likely VTL candidates
(Germany and Singapore shown for comparison)

Country COVID-19 new case rate* Fully vaccinated COVID-19 testing rate*
Switzerland 21.3 52.9% 437
Singapore 13.3 77.2% 1,105
Netherlands 11.9 63.6% 316
France 11.1 63.7% 750
Germany 10.5 62.7% 160
Italy 6.9 65.9% 463
Finland 6.2 59.0% 315
Spain 6.2 77.0% 170
Denmark 5.9 74.6% 1,547

* 7-day average per 100,000 population
Sources: Our World in Data, ECDC

Denmark stands out as an obvious choice here – with low case numbers, high vaccination and one of the best national rates of testing in Europe.

Denmark recently became the first country in the EU to lift all its COVID-19 restrictions, including mask wearing indoors, though it remains to be seen whether the Singapore Government sees that as a good thing or a bad one!

Singapore Airlines flies to Copenhagen three times per week, though the flight continues to (and therefore also from) Italy, which would probably mean some dedicated VTL flights would have to be added, unless Italy also joined the VTL list at the same time.

Spain now has very low case numbers and a vaccination level comparable to Singapore, following a recent wave of infections, but testing is very low, which might mean some under-reporting. That said, Germany’s testing rate is worse, so perhaps there’s not much to read into with this metric!

Finland and Italy then both look like good candidates, though Finland’s vaccination rate is ticking up a little more slowly than most other European countries.

Finnair is restarting non-stop flights between Singapore and Helsinki next month (strangely enough!), so these could become VTL designated services.

Finnair is restarting passenger flights between Singapore and Helsinki in October 2021
Finnair has been advertising its Singapore restart, but no word on any VTL arrangement yet

France and the Netherlands have comparable COVID-19 situations to Germany, with France in particular having a very high testing rate. Aside from Singapore airlines services, Air France and KLM are also operating regularly on the Paris-Singapore and Amsterdam-Singapore routes.

Switzerland is a bit far behind in vaccinations and still has high case numbers as it recovers from a recent fourth wave of infections. That would make it a surprising VTL choice in the short term.

A wider ‘VTL Zone’

There should also be potential to expand the VTL to countries without direct flights to and from Singapore – for example to Austria or Luxembourg, in an expanded ‘VTL Zone’.

This would allow travellers to make connections in another VTL country (e.g. Germany) and take a direct flight to or from these places, or travel cross-border by rail or road in some cases, without impacting their 21-day travel history outside Singapore or the VTL country of departure for the flight back home.

Also if somewhere like the Netherlands was added to the VTL list, it should be possible to fly from Singapore to Amsterdam, spend some time there, then fly from Amsterdam to Munich for a few more days, then take a VTL flight home.

That’s because you would have only been in the Netherlands and/or Germany and/or Singapore (the VTL Zone) in the last 21 consecutive days.

This could also open up a prime VTL candidate – Canada. Currently in Category 2, a trip there via Germany or another future VTL country in Europe should keep you eligible for a quarantine-free return on the same routing.

We certainly hope the Singapore Government will see it that way too, as it would be very restrictive to be forced to stick to a single country, not to mention needless since the current VTL already allows you to take domestic flights within Germany, for example.

Thailand

Though we doubt they will be next on the list, Thailand’s Phuket ‘sandbox’ and Koh Samui ‘plus’ programmes are already up and running for fully vaccinated travellers from Singapore, with direct flights available and 70%+ vaccination among local residents.

These might be considered as regions in isolation from Thailand for a VTL expansion, even though the rest of the country would probably retain Category 4 arrival requirements initially.

Popularity would certainly be high for a short-haul beach destination, with the Phuket route lending a hand to local low-cost operators Scoot and Jetstar.

What about elsewhere in Asia-Pacific?

Clearly not everyone is interested in flying all the way to Europe for their first overseas trip since COVID-19, but the problem with most of Singapore’s neighbouring countries remains their vaccination rates.

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are certainly good candidates, but they have to open to Singapore too, while also reducing their case numbers (or keeping them low, in the case of Taiwan). It doesn’t look likely that will happen in the first expansion of the VTL only weeks from now.

Australia looks set to be an option, once it enters Phase C of its reopening plan (extending travel bubbles, reopening international travel with safe countries, etc…). That will only happen from mid to late November 2021, once 80% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, so this one also looks off the cards “in the coming weeks”.

Australia is a travel possibility by year end, but isn’t likely to be in the lineup as the next VTL addition. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Similarly New Zealand only plans to relax border restrictions with safe countries from early 2022, in line with its own vaccination programme, so we’re not talking weeks there either.

What about the UK and the USA?

I think we can forget these two as VTL additions for the time being, despite the significant economic ties with Singapore.

Very high case numbers in both countries don’t chime with the low-risk approach of the VTL, and in the case of the USA there’s a pretty lacklustre full vaccination rate (despite a promising start – now sitting at around 54%).

The best we can probably hope for (in time) with the UK and the USA is an upgrade to Category 3 then Category 2, before a quarantine-free option is explored.


 

 

Summary

It’s great to see positive initial reports from the government relating to the first couple of weeks of the Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme – with only one reported case so far among over 900 travellers.

It’s also interesting to see some of the early data pointing strongly towards a leisure-led travel recovery, with only small levels of business trips compared to pre-COVID.

A notice about the VTL at Frankfurt Airport. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Thankfully for the airlines this doesn’t seem to be weakening demand for Business Class too much – from flights we’ve been monitoring there are healthy loads in this cabin, perhaps as more travellers seek to guarantee more social distancing during the pandemic.

Finally the signs still point towards Europe for upcoming expansion of the VTL scheme, with countries like Denmark, Finland, France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands all potential candidates.

We might even see expansion to countries without direct flights, like Austria, whereby travellers could make a flight connection in another VTL country (e.g. Germany) or cross the land border while retaining eligibility to return to Singapore quarantine-free, having remained within a ‘VTL zone’.

Where do you think the VTL will be expanded to next? Let us know in the comments section below.

(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)

12 comments

  1. Nice analysis!

    Do you think SG also look at ICU beds available in VTL countries.? Germany has 7% of ICU beds occupied right now but France is 34%!

    1. They might do but I expect they take a wider view of the overall capacity of a country’s health system to cope with outbreaks / new waves, rather than focus on those specifics. In this respect, northern European countries tend to fare a bit better than southern European ones…

  2. No point to more VTL countries when pre-departure C+ is a career risk, nor when there are still companies like my wife’s who do not allow employees to go on overseas leisure travel.

    1. I don’t think it’s by any means certain. It could easily be another country, or perhaps 2/3 countries announced at once, none of which are Denmark!

      If you’re going to secure Business Saver space speculatively, just make sure you’re comfortable with the US$75 miles redeposit fee, or you’re happy to make a complimentary rebooking.

  3. Do you qualify for Germany VTL as “vaccinated in Singapore” if you are vaccinated in a third country with an approved vaccine, has entered Singapore as a work pass holder and done the serology test to receive the green tick mark in Tracetogether?

    1. Unfortunately not at this stage, the vaccine must have been administered in Singapore or Germany.

      However, we expect this to change in the next update phase of the VTL with more EU countries added. Thereafter an EU Digital COVID Certificate should be acceptable in addition to a vaccination administered in Singapore, but we’ll have to wait for firm news on that.

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