Singapore is set to open its borders to more countries for quarantine-free travel as the city-state seeks to rebuild its status as an international aviation hub.
From 19 October, fully vaccinated people in relation to COVID-19 from eight countries, including Britain, France, Spain and the United States, will be able to enter the island without quarantining if they pass their tests, the government said over the weekend.
The announcement marks a major step in Singapore’s strategy to resume international links.
The Southeast Asian nation, one of the world’s biggest travel and finance hubs, is home to Asian headquarters of thousands of global companies whose executives have long relied on its connectivity.
The country of 5.45 million people has been reporting record daily COVID-19 infections of more than 3,000 over the past few days, though almost all the cases are asymptomatic or mild.
About 83% of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the world’s highest rates.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore will reach a new normal and can lighten restrictions when cases stabilise, even if they stay in the hundreds.
“It will take us at least three months, and perhaps as long as six months, to get there,” Lee said in an address to the nation, which has largely kept the virus at bay since last year with masks, contact tracing and a closed border.
“After this surge stabilises, we may still see future surges, especially if new variants emerge. We may have to tap on the brakes again if cases again grow too fast, to protect our healthcare system and healthcare workers,” Lee said.
The government will tighten rules for those who remain unvaccinated from Wednesday, barring them from entering malls and eating at the country’s ubiquitous hawker centres. It will review some COVID-19 curbs in a week or two.
Singapore’s travel programme for fully vaccinated people began in September with Germany and Brunei.
Singapore is discussing two-way quarantine-free travel with several more countries, the government said.
“We hope this further easing of measures and expansion of Singapore’s border reopening will spur other markets to similarly navigate their pathways towards restarting air travel,” said Philip Goh, Asia-Pacific vice president for the International Air Transport Association.
Singapore Airlines said in a statement that it will expand its vaccinated travel lane networks to 14 cities.