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Booking a VTL flight: How should I prepare for sudden travel restrictions?

Booking a VTL flight: How should I prepare for sudden travel restrictions?
File photo of the Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, Denmark.

SINGAPORE: Amid a rapidly changing global health situation, experts say it is hard to predict if other countries will impose restrictions on travellers from Singapore – meaning flexibility is key for those making a trip overseas.

Singapore was removed earlier this month from a European Union list of countries for which travel restrictions should be lifted.

Denmark, one of Singapore’s vaccinated travel lane (VTL) partners, imposed fresh restrictions on travellers from the country last week, including requiring self-isolation.

While the VTL scheme allows quarantine-free travel for those entering Singapore via designated flights, it does not exempt travellers from the requirements of the destination country or region.

SHOULD I BE WORRIED IF I WANT TO TRAVEL?

VTLs have been announced for 21 destinations – of which eight are EU member states.

The EU list is reviewed every two weeks, with criteria including the countries’ “epidemiological situation and overall response to COVID-19". But it is not legally binding and EU member states can adjust their own restrictions.

So far, none of them have followed in Denmark's footsteps to impose new restrictions on travellers from Singapore.

Health experts CNA spoke to said it is hard to predict if other countries will follow suit, as there are numerous factors that affect border restrictions.

These include internal ones, such as the number of new infections per million people, said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.

This determines the severity of the outbreak, and “translates to the risk that travellers to this country will be exposed and infected when moving about in the community”.

Domestic vaccination rates and healthcare capacity will also be considered, said Dr David Teo, regional medical director for Asia at health and security risk consultancy International SOS.

External aspects involve the COVID-19 situation in the traveller’s country, including any surge in cases, the prevalence of virus variants and vaccination rates.

Nevertheless, Professor Dale Fisher, senior consultant at the National University Hospital's (NUH) infectious diseases division, said Denmark's decision “makes no scientific sense”.

“The time for border controls has long passed in all but a few countries, where internal social restrictions also remain strong as COVID zero strategies remain in place, awaiting adequate vaccine coverage,” he said.

Once there is significant community transmission in a country, the only purpose of border restrictions is to limit the entry of unvaccinated people, as they could stress the health system, he said.

“Denmark actually has the same community case rate as Singapore at just over 3,000 cases per million population per week. So in reality a Dane is much more likely to contract COVID from Denmark than a traveller from Singapore."

Prof Fisher added: "It is extremely inconvenient for a small number of people with plans and undermines public faith in the global direction of the pandemic exit strategy."

I WANT TO BOOK TICKETS, HOW SHOULD I PREPARE?

Given the fluidity of the situation, flexible itineraries are key for those looking to travel, said experts.

Ms Lina Ang, managing director of APAC at travel digital marketing platform Sojern, said: “Don’t get yourself tied to any bookings (air or accommodation) that cannot be amended or cancelled in these current times. Flexible booking policies are key!”

Ms Kelly Toh, head of marketing and public relations at CTC Travel, also noted: “It is recommended to plan and book your trip earlier, and purchase travel insurance upon flight booking."

“Insurance is an absolute necessity in case one gets stranded for an extended stay or worse, gets infected and needs hospitalisation," added Mr Shukor Yusof, the founder of aviation research firm Endau Analytics.

But the travel experts also said one should check if the insurance covers COVID-19 and changes due to government travel advisories.

International SOS’ Dr Teo pointed out that travellers should also be aware of their own medical vulnerabilities before deciding to travel, such as their age, pre-existing conditions or vaccination status.

Be aware of the risks of the areas you will be visiting and try to select places that are less crowded, have high standards of hygiene and good healthcare facilities, he added.

WHAT IF I’VE ALREADY BOOKED MY TICKETS?

Travellers who have already booked their VTL flights should check with the provider about their policies on flexibility, changes and cancellations.

“For example, check if your travel arrangements booked have 48-hour flexible cancellation policies to mitigate risks and changes to travel regulations,” said Sojern’s Ms Ang.

Travellers should also monitor the situation closely and stay up to date with the latest travel rules and regulations, she said.

In addition, travellers should equip themselves with critical information such as the closest testing facilities, and have contingency plans in the event of border closures, advised Dr Teo.

Businesses who have planned work trips for employees should brief them on the measures in place to keep them safe, and the avenues to reach out to in case of an emergency, he said.

“Finally, take all the steps necessary to keep yourself safe. The general habits of wearing face masks, practising good personal hygiene, safe distancing and avoiding large crowds are all good tips to follow whether you’re in your home country, or travelling.”

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Source: CNA/cl(cy)

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