SINGAPORE — Singapore will not rescind its vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangements with Europe, even as COVID-19 cases continue to rise on the continent, as infection rates in some countries are comparable with that in the city-state.
European countries that have VTLs with Singapore are Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, the Netherlands, and more recently, Finland and Sweden which will both commence arrangements from 29 November.
The World Health Organization reported last week that COVID-19 deaths rose by 10 per cent in Europe in the week before, making it the only region where both cases and deaths are steadily increasing.
Citing Singapore's arrangement with the Netherlands, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday (15 November) said that while the latter's rising infection rate is slightly higher than the city-state's, authorities here do not think it is necessary to rescind the arrangement or reduce the quotas.
With a quota of only six flights a week from the European country and fully vaccinated travellers tested before departure and upon arrival, it is "very unlikely" that maintaining the VTL would increase the burden on Singapore's hospital and healthcare system, Ong noted during a virtual media conference chaired by the multi-ministry COVID-19 taskforce.
"Imported cases are still a very small fraction of total community cases, and do not significantly affect local transmissions," said the taskforce co-chair.
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Transport Minister Iswaran also addressed concerns over the decision of the Council of the European Union (EU) to remove Singapore from its "whitelist" of countries not subject to travel restrictions as well as a decision by the US last month to downgrade its COVID-19 health advisory for travel into Singapore.
"The global COVID-19 pandemic is evolving, with the risk of new variants and waves of infection. We must expect and accept that border policies may change as situations change," he said.
Iswaran also noted, in response to a question by a reporter, that South Korean travellers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and have recovered from the disease would continue to be allowed to enter Singapore from 15 November.
This comes as South Korean authorities announced on 10 November that travellers from Singapore who have had COVID-19, even if fully vaccinated, will not be allowed to enter the country as they may still test positive after recovery.
"The short answer is we are not at this stage contemplating a similar measure with respect to (South) Korea. But we are monitoring the situation and we will if it's warranted, take the appropriate steps and then make announcements," said Iswaran.
Authorities on Monday also announced that Singapore will have VTL arrangements with five more countries under the Category II classification: Indonesia, India, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
This brings the total number of countries with which Singapore has signed VTL deals to 21. Under the deal, fully vaccinated visitors can travel to either country without having to be quarantined, in addition to being accorded the same privileges as fully vaccinated citizens.
Separately, a VTL over land between Singapore and Malaysia may open in a few weeks' time. This follows a similar arrangement for flights between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which will take effect from 29 November.
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