SINGAPORE — Singapore will shift from the use of Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) to allowing all fully vaccinated travellers from countries and regions from “Low Risk” and “General Travel” categories to enter Singapore without being quarantined.
"Ministry of Transport will work closely with the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19 and Ministry of Health on the timing of this transition, which will depend on the public health situation in Singapore and the world, among other things," said Transport Minister S Iswaran on Wednesday (9 March) of the "fundamental shift" in policy.
"This will effectively reopen our borders to the rest of the world," said the minister, who did not give further details on the timing of the move. Countries and regions in the aforementioned categories include China, Macau, Taiwan and all non-VTL countries.
He noted that the city-state is now in a different situation compared to the "stark and difficult trade-off" that it faced in the early stages of the pandemic, between protecting public health and opening borders. Today, there is a better understanding of the virus, well-established safe management measures, and high levels of vaccination in the population.
Need to sustain momentum
Noting that passenger volumes were at 3 per cent of pre-COVID levels in early 2021, Iswaran told the House that VTLs led to passenger volumes of about 15 per cent of pre-COVID levels in December 2021.
Introduced last September, there are now VTLs with 32 countries. Flights at Changi have reached 38 per cent and city links are at 58 per cent.
"We must sustain this momentum," stressed Iswaran, noting that other aviation hubs like Dubai, Qatar and Istanbul, are already at up to 70 per cent of their pre-COVID international passenger traffic. Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines have also announced plans to re-open their borders to all vaccinated travellers.
"In short, the world is learning to live with COVID. We now have the confidence and opportunity to move decisively," said the minister, who added that authorities aim to restore Changi’s passenger volumes to at least 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels in 2022.
Iswaran also noted the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) forecasts that international passenger volumes in the Asia-Pacific will recover to about 40 per cent of pre-COVID levels this year.
$500m aviation support package
The Transport Minister also announced a $500 million package to support aviation companies and workers in Financial Year 22/23, as the airport community gears up for higher travel volumes.
"During the pandemic, the workforce in Changi Airport Group, SIA, SATS and other aviation companies fell sharply. Based on MOM’s latest published employment data, as of September 2021, the air transport sector employed about 25,000 workers, nearly one third less than pre- COVID levels," he said.
"Our companies are now ramping up recruitment efforts. SIA has started hiring new cabin crew, and SATS is bringing back experienced workers."
Despite the boost provided by VTLs, the aviation sector remains among the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. The OneAviation Resilience Package will therefore enable the sector to ramp up its capacity to manage increased traveller volumes, in order to rebuild and reclaim Singapore's status as an international aviation hub.
The package comprises three key components:
Manpower support ($60 million): Aviation companies will receive wage support via an extension of the Aviation Workforce Retention Grant for six months, covering 10 per cent of wages paid to local employees from April to September 2022 (up to a cap of S$4,600 of gross monthly wages per employee).
Cost relief and support for public health safeguards ($390 million): rebates on fees and charges payable by aviation stakeholders at Changi Airport and Seletar Airport will be extended for six months. Authorities will also continue to defray the cost of implementing public health and safe management measures at the airport.
Industry and workforce transformation support ($50 million): The Aviation Development Fund (ADF) will provide support for companies’ innovation and productivity, and workforce transformation initiatives. Examples of such efforts include the deployment of autonomous and digital technologies to optimise airport operations and enhance manpower productivity.
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