Singapore may test business travel from some nations next month

SINGAPORE plans to set up pilot programs next month to allow vaccinated business travelers from some countries to enter on carefully controlled itineraries as it takes steps to reopen its borders.

Singapore is in talks with Germany, Australia, Canada and South Korea to be the first batch of countries for such arrangements, though it is also looking at the possibility of leisure travel, trade minister Gan Kim Yong told Bloomberg News in an interview Tuesday. He said factors like infections, vaccination rates and the ability to control outbreaks will be considered in these discussions.

“In the pilot, we are likely to focus more on business travel, but beyond business travel, we are also looking at the possibility of leisure travel, particularly to those safer countries, those with a lower infection rate,” he said. “We will need to pilot-run some of this with an organized itinerary, probably with organized tour groups, to be able to find ways to bubble-wrap them for the journey and with specific designated places that they can visit.”

Singapore, with a vaccination rate that is among the world’s best according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker, is aiming to reopen to the world and emerge from the pandemic relatively unscathed by high hospitalizations and death tolls. At the current 76% full inoculation, the country is on track to be ahead of its schedule to reach 80% by early September, a milestone where officials have pledged to ease more measures, particularly on border reopening.

Still, such relaxation will be done in a careful manner and local rules on gathering sizes could still be intact for a while as more people enter the country, Mr. Gan said. “The two are interlinked,” Mr. Gan said. “If we continue to keep our borders closed and just among ourselves, I think we will be quite ready to open up domestically, but because we are going to open up the border, which is a major effort, and potentially a higher-risk measure, therefore we will need to ensure that domestically within the community we continue to have reasonable basic safe management measures in place.”

EASING OF LOCAL MEASURES
Singapore earlier this month approved some easing of virus-related restrictions for vaccinated persons, including dining at restaurants in groups of five for those fully inoculated. The government is also set to announce a loosening of work-from-home rules this week.

Mr. Gan said further easing of these rules in the community will hinge on authorities managing the reopening of borders well, without any “explosion” of infections. This refers to how transmissible the virus is, rather than the absolute number of cases, he said. Already, the country is loosening controls to allow vaccinated foreign workers to enter the country, as well as plans to bring in much-needed laborers in the construction sector.

“We may be the first country who has a high vaccination rate, and yet taking a step-by-step approach to reopening,” Mr. Gan said. “We are seeing whether this approach in fact is a better approach to allow a safe opening, yet at the same time allow more activities to happen.” He added such an approach may ultimately prevent a reversion to lockdown measures, which have frustrated businesses and residents.

Singapore’s easing of restrictions comes at a turbulent time for a region battling the Delta variant. For instance, Hong Kong will now no longer recognize anti-body test results as a basis to cut quarantine period for arrivals. Also a raft of disappointing Chinese economic data Monday — on top of another port closure there last week following a positive virus test — added to signs that Asian trade powerhouses could be losing one of their economic lifelines.

Singapore last week upgraded its 2021 GDP forecast to 6%-7%, predicated on a stable global recovery and further easing of border and domestic restrictions through year-end. Mr. Gan said he is confident Singapore would achieve these projections. — Bloomberg

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