SINGAPORE: Singapore will extend its quarantine-free vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme to Australia and Switzerland from Nov 8.
For Australia, however, two-way travel applies only to fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families due to its current border measures, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) on Tuesday (Oct 26).
"Singapore’s VTL for Australia will allow fully vaccinated travellers from Australia to enter Singapore without quarantine, for all purposes of travel," said CAAS.
Australia has said it intends to reopen to more travellers in future.
"We also expect student and business pass holders from Singapore to be able to enter Australia, after Australia has finalised the arrangement for their entry," said CAAS on Tuesday.
"Other travellers from Singapore would not be able to travel to Australia until a later stage."
Under the vaccinated travel lane scheme, travellers must have remained in one or more of the VTL countries in the last 14 days before departure to Singapore.
They must take two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests - before departure and on arrival at Changi Airport - and enter Singapore via designated flights.
Unvaccinated children aged 12 and below are allowed to travel under the scheme - except to South Korea - as long as they are accompanied by a traveller who meets the requirements.
Singapore has now announced vaccinated travel lanes with 13 countries.
CAAS said the successful implementation of the scheme has given it the "experience and confidence" to extend it to more countries.
"We will continue to do so in a cautious and step-by-step manner without compromising public health," the agency said.
As of Monday, more than 15,000 travellers have been issued passes under the vaccinated travel lane scheme, with about 5,000 of them having entered Singapore so far.
With the extension to Australia and Switzerland, the quota for those entering Singapore under the scheme will be increased from 3,000 to 4,000 travellers daily, CAAS said.
"We will monitor the progress of the scheme closely before deciding on any further increases in capacity," it added.
CAAS noted that both Australia and Switzerland come under Category II of the Ministry of Health's border measures, with similar or lower COVID-19 incidence rates than Singapore and other countries under the vaccinated travel lane scheme.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had announced last week that Singapore and Australia were in the final stages of talks to set up a travel arrangement, with a plan likely to be established "within the next week or so".
The Sydney Morning Herald reported then that the scheme would initially be focused on vaccinated students and business travellers, before opening up to tourists.
On Tuesday, CAAS said that Australia is among Singapore's top 10 markets for annual passenger arrivals at Changi Airport, accounting for about 4 per cent of total arrivals in 2019.
More than 50,000 Singaporeans live in Australia, it noted, adding that about 25,000 Australians live in Singapore.
"The VTL will enable them to reconnect with their loved ones back home, whom they have been physically separated from for more than a year," said CAAS.
On Mr Morrison's comments that Australia will reopen to more travellers from Singapore, CAAS said Canberra will release more details at a later time.
As for Switzerland, it ranks among Singapore’s top trading and investment partners, with about 3,000 Swiss expatriates living in Singapore, said CAAS.
All travellers from Singapore are currently allowed to enter Switzerland and are not required to self-quarantine upon arrival.
Singapore first launched vaccinated travel lanes for Brunei and Germany on Sep 8.
It was then extended to eight countries from Oct 19 - Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The vaccinated travel lane with South Korea will start from Nov 15.
RESTORING SAFE TWO-WAY TRAVEL
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Minister for Transport S Iswaran said that despite announcing 13 vaccinated travel lanes so far, this is still a fraction of the 80 countries that Changi Airport was connected to before the pandemic.
"To rebuild our aviation hub, we will need to steadily restore safe two-way quarantine-free travel with more countries/regions," he said.
"We are in discussions with other partners, including our regional neighbours, to reopen safely to each other and restore our close connectivity," said Mr Iswaran, adding that Singapore hopes to conclude more such discussions soon.
When asked about whether any prerequisites had been set to allow students and eventually all travellers to fly from Singapore to Australia, Mr Iswaran said a "specific threshold number" has not been determined on infection numbers or other factors.
Such schemes have to be worked out based on developments both in Singapore and its partner countries, he said.
Mr Iswaran was also asked whether it was prudent to extend the vaccinated travel lane scheme further, given the current COVID-19 situation here.
In response, he said part of the process of learning to live with the coronavirus was about how Singapore would open its borders.
The Transport Minister pointed to safeguards such as the vaccination and testing requirements for travellers, adding that the vaccinated travel lane destinations were considered "relatively less risky".
Mr Iswaran said the easing of travel restrictions was done in a manner that was "prudent and cautious", adding that many people in Singapore have family members in these countries.
"I think ultimately, it's also (about) what can make a difference in terms of the lives and livelihoods of Singaporeans," he added.