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Singapore switching to daily post-arrival COVID-19 tests for VTL travellers

From 7th December, VTL travellers will complete seven COVID-19 tests after arriving in Singapore, including 4 new ART self-swabs.

Earlier this week we reported how Singapore was tightening its testing measures for those arriving on the quarantine-free Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme, reintroducing Day 3 and Day 7 post-arrival testing but this time using a cheaper and quicker supervised self-swab ART method at one of 50 city-wide locations.

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That increased the number of arrival tests from one to four, effective from 3rd December 2021, since an on-arrival PCR test is also still administered at Changi Airport, but the good news was the extra ART tests were only S$15 each.

Four more tests coming

To beef up surveillance of potential imported Omicron cases so they can be isolated as soon as possible, the Singapore Government is adding four self-administered ART tests, which will be slotted in to the ‘gap’ days, for a testing schedule as follows:

  • Day 1: PCR (on arrival)
  • Days 2, 4, 5 & 6: ART (at home)
  • Days 3 & 7: ART (at QTCs / CTCs)

Yes you read it correctly – you’re going to be tested every single day for a week when arriving in Singapore on the VTL; the new (and hopefully temporary) price to pay for freedom from SHN.

To step up detection and containment of the Omicron variant until more information is available, we are enhancing our testing protocols and procedures for travellers.

Singapore ICA

These changes will take effect for those entering Singapore via the VTL from Tuesday 7th December 2021.

Singapore’s VTL testing begins with an on-arrival PCR swab at Changi Airport. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The new post arrival ART tests will also apply to those arriving in Singapore via the VTL (Land) from Malaysia on the same day, and will initially be in force for both VTL (Air) and VTL (Land) arrangements for a 27-day period, up to and including 2nd January 2022.

Freedom from quarantine will soon require daily COVID-19 testing for VTL travellers. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Here’s an example for someone arriving in Singapore via the VTL (arrival day = Day 1), once the new testing regime is established.

Singapore VTL arrival testing regime
(from 7th December)

Day Test Type Test Location Cost
1 PCR
(administered)

Changi Airport
S$125
2 ART
(self-swab)

Home
~S$7
3 ART
(supervised)

QTC / CTC
S$15
4 ART
(self-swab)

Home
~S$7
5 ART
(self-swab)

Home
~S$7
6 ART
(self-swab)

Home
~S$7
7 ART
(supervised)

QTC / CTC
S$15
Total 7 tests ~S$183

These tests are in addition to the mandatory pre-departure test (PCR or ART) taken in your VTL country within 2 days of your flight to Singapore, typically costing from around S$30, for an overall one-way testing cost of around S$210 per person.

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Children aged two and below in the calendar year of arrival in Singapore (e.g. for arrivals in 2021, those who were born on 1st January 2019 or later) continue to be exempt from pre-departure and post-arrival testing.

Day 2, 4, 5 and 6 self-tests

You must complete the Day 2, 4, 5 and 6 self-tests with approved kits authorised for use in Singapore, as outlined here by the Health Sciences Authority, however these kits are not provided to travellers on arrival, they must instead be self procured.

That’s not a complicated rule to follow, thankfully, with outlets like Watsons, Guardian and Unity pharmacies stocking these kits for around S$6-7 per test, but remember you must not go out to purchase them during the self-isolation period between your on-arrival PCR test and the negative result notification (typically 4-6 hours).

ART test kits cost around S$7 in Singapore

These ART kits are designed for use by consumers and do not require a doctor’s prescription or authority letter to purchase them. Instructions are relatively simple to follow and results take 15 minutes.

Also, you may have recently received complimentary ART kits from the Singapore Government, which are also valid for use by VTL travellers in Day 2, Day 4, Day 5 and Day 6 tests, if you still have some left.

When to test

You can take your ART self-swab at home or in your hotel at any time on the designated day (Days 2, 4, 5 and 6), however you are required to self-administer your test before leaving your place of accommodation that day.

During this 7-day period, other than on days when they go out for their supervised tests, [VTL] travellers must test negative on their self-administered ART before going out for activities on that day.

Singapore Ministry of Health

You should submit your test results immediately after obtaining a valid result, via a weblink for results submission, which will be provided by email after your arrival in Singapore.

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Even if you do not intend to leave your place of accommodation on Days 2, 4, 5 and 6, you must still complete your test and submit the results that day, so make sure you do so by 11.59pm, otherwise you may be required to SHN and/or be fined.

Home delivery kits

If you’re stocking up on approved kits during your self-isolation period after the on-arrival test at Changi Airport on Day 1, you can receive them via home delivery services like Grab or PandaMart.

Approved home test ART kits are available for doorstep delivery via some apps in Singapore

If you clear immigration from your VTL flight late on Day 1 (e.g. at 11pm), and you don’t have any approved kits to use at your accommodation for your Day 2 test, you may have no choice but to do this, since by the time your negative on-arrival test comes through it will be Day 2 already, and you can’t go out on Day 2 before testing yourself!

This is a confusing restriction, especially for tourists visiting, and could have been solved simply by providing at least one ART kit (or ideally all four) to each passenger on arrival.

If you are a visitor staying in a hotel without access to mobile delivery apps, Singapore’s ICA recommends contacting your hotel concierge to arrange ART test kits to be delivered to your room. I’d like to think at least one person present at the meeting where this was all agreed said “hang on, isn’t this all starting to get a bit… confusing?!”.

Ideally, Singapore residents should have an adequate supply of ART test kits at home before embarking on their VTL trips, to save any hassle in this area on their return.

What if you test positive?

If you test positive from a self-swab Day 2, Day 4, Day 5 or Day 6 test, the following procedure applies:

  • Follow MOH’s Protocol 2 and self-isolate immediately.
  • Book a confirmatory PCR test (free) at a Combined Test Centre (CTC) via the booking link provided as soon as possible, and no later than 4pm on the day after testing positive via the ART kit.
  • Take private transport, taxi or private hire car to the CTC, and return to your place of accommodation immediately after your test (no public transport).
  • Continue to self-isolate and await the result.
  • If your confirmatory PCR test falls on an VTL ART testing day (either at your own accommodation or at a QTC / CTC), you do not need to complete it / attend.

If the confirmatory PCR result is negative, you’ll no longer need to self-isolate and can continue with the post-arrival testing regime (if it is still applicable).

If the confirmatory PCR result is positive, further isolation and treatment measures will be imposed. You should remain in your place of accommodation, and not come into close proximity with any other person. The Ministry of Health will contact you with further details on how your case will be managed.

Play by the rules There is obviously an element of trust when asking people to declare results of their own self-swab ART tests, but we strongly encourage all our readers to conduct the tests accurately and report honestly.

However you feel personally about the necessity of these additional tests, they will be part of the process all VTL travellers agreed to follow, and they are designed to protect public health.

Day 3 and Day 7 tests

Day 3 and Day 7 post-arrival tests continue to follow the current testing regime, which took effect on 3rd December 2021, and take the form of a supervised self-swab at a Quick Test Centre (QTC) or Combined Testing Centre (CTC).

You do not need to undergo an unsupervised self-swab ART at your place of accommodation on Days 3 and 7, regardless of what time on those days you will attend your supervised swab, and you can go about your activities as normal.

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The cost is S$15 per test including GST, and you must make payment through cashless modes such as Mastercard, NETS, PayNow and Visa. Cash will not be accepted at the QTCs or CTCs.

Remember to bring your photo ID with you when attending.

QTC / CTC locations

There are 41 QTC locations and 9 CTC locations available across the city, for a total of 50 options, with various operating hours.

  QTC and CTC locations

The earliest centre opens at 8am and the latest closing time is 9.30pm, but do bear in mind most centres are operating only during a 10am-5pm window, with some weekend closures too, so do plan in advance.

Day 3 and Day 7 tests will continue to be supervised swabs at a QTC / CTC. (Photo: Edgar Su / Reuters)

You should book an appointment before your visit. If you do not have a local mobile phone number, you won’t be able to make an appointment and will instead have to register in-person at the QTC / CTC.

FAQs for all the post-arrival ART tests are available here.

Leaving Singapore within 7 days?

If you are leaving Singapore within a week of arriving on the VTL, you will be exempt from taking your scheduled ART on the day of your departure (and, obviously, on all subsequent days).

Your day of departure from Singapore is defined as the scheduled day of departure of your flight or ferry, or the day you clear departure immigration, if leaving via the land border.

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For example, if you arrive via the VTL on Monday (Day 1) at 6am and you leave on Thursday (Day 4) at 10pm, you will have to complete the Day 1 (on-arrival) test, Day 2 self-swab test and Day 3 supervised swab test at a QTC / CTC, but no further tests thereafter.

VTL testing requirements from Singapore

In addition to these tests when returning to Singapore, you’ll also need a pre-departure test when travelling to selected VTL countries, as you can see from the following updated list (click to expand):

Testing before travelling to selected countries
based on fully vaccinated travellers departing from Singapore by air

Country Test type Test timing Exemptions
Hong Kong PCR
48h before departure
Japan PCR 72h before departure
Age 5 or below
Myanmar PCR 72h before arrival Age 5 or below
Qatar PCR 48h before departure
Age 3 or below
&
Vaccinated Qataris and residents
South Korea PCR
or
ART
PCR 2 days before departure
or
ART 1 day before departure
Age 5 or below
Taiwan PCR 2 days before departure
Taiwan citizens
&
residents

Some countries also apply on-arrival and post-arrival testing for those coming from Singapore.

For a VTL round-trip to and from South Korea with a stay of eight days or longer, for example, travellers are now looking at 11 COVID-19 tests per person in total (pre-departure, on-arrival, Day 6/7, pre-departure, then these seven Singapore arrival tests)!

Quarantine-free travel from Singapore to some countries, like South Korea, now involves a significant number of COVID-19 tests. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Summary

Retaining your quarantine-free privileges in Singapore after arrival on the VTL will now effectively require you to take a COVID-19 test every day for a week, another response to the globally-circulating Omicron variant of concern.

While that’s an annoying addition to the previous testing regime, at least you can complete the tests at home or in your hotel, extra costs are low, and there have been no additional PCR tests added at this stage.

VTL arrival testing costs now stand at around S$180 per passenger, in addition to the pre-departure test from overseas and any ‘outbound’ testing regime imposed when travelling to some VTL countries, like the USA and South Korea.

Will the addition of these four self-swab ART tests put you off travelling on the VTL? Let us know in the comments section below.

(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)

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12 comments

  1. What happens if I have another trip planned less than 7 days after my arrival on a VTL flight? Will I not be allowed to leave the country? (I appreciate you might not know the answer and I’ll have to call the hotline. I’m planning two separate trips in successive weeks and I just realized this…)