Singapore has relaxed one of the world’s strictest pandemic regimes, launching quarantine-free travel arrangements with 10 countries after nearly 21 months of border closures.
Those vaccinated will be able to travel freely to eight countries, including the UK, US, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada, as the city-state tentatively reopens while regional rival Hong Kong shows little sign of lifting the strict restrictions. Singapore had already started a travel route with Germany in September while non-quarantine travel with South Korea will begin in November.
The reopening of the Asian financial hub comes as other countries in the region, including Thailand and Australia, have started to ease travel restrictions.
The move was announced by the Singapore government this month, causing airline websites to fall and ticket prices soar as thousands of expats and foreign workers attempted to return home.
Singapore Airlines shares hit their highest levels since April after the ruling, up 8% since the October 9 announcement.
Steven Phua, director of travel company Rave Group, said he gets 10 to 20 calls a day – well above pre-pandemic levels – inquiring about the vaccinated travel routes (VTLs) of Singaporeans locals wishing to vacation abroad and foreign workers trying to visit the house.
“I agree with the government’s security policy, but it was very important that Singapore finally reopens,” he said. Tickets on Rave’s online reservation system are “flying off the shelves,” he added.
Reopening some borders could help stem the outflow of foreign workers – on which the Singapore $ 344 billion economy heavily depends – during the pandemic. The country recently reported a 10.7% drop in its foreign population, which includes expatriates, students and migrant workers, in June compared to the previous year.
Business groups have urged a relaxation of border restrictions, with the European Chamber of Commerce saying the reopening was “crucial”.
VTLs offer a respite from Singapore’s strict restrictions on social distancing. But despite moving from a Covid-zero approach to “living with” the virus, Singapore’s national rules remain restrictive. A maximum of two people are allowed to dine together in restaurants while music in those establishments has been banned to prevent the spread of the virus.
Many in Singapore have taken to social media to complain about the incongruity of allowing relatively easy international travel while enforcing such onerous domestic restrictions.
Singapore Airlines’ website was temporarily down following news that travel restrictions would be relaxed, with the company citing “technical difficulties.”
A UK professional in the city, who waited a few days before purchasing return flights to London, lamented that the delay had lowered the price of tickets from around S $ 5,000 (US $ 3,700) to $ 10,000 for a family of five.
The requirements for those traveling on VTLs have also caused confusion, with many turning to specialists for advice.
“We need to explain the rules to uncertain customers, but we also need to keep checking the websites of different governments for their requirements,” said Kay Swee Pin, Managing Director of SA Tours, which specializes in group travel for Singaporeans. mostly local.
Making group bookings has been difficult given that airlines still make a fraction of the flights they took before the pandemic, she said.
“The prices are definitely higher, around 20 percent or so,” Kay said.