Singapore expands quarantine-free travel to 8 more countries

Paddlers row past the central business district, at Marina Bay in Singapore, on Oct 3, 2021. (BLOOMBERG)

Singapore is opening its borders to more countries for quarantine-free travel starting Oct 19, a move that several public health experts deem as timely as the city-state has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

The island nation, which is pursuing a strategy of living with COVID, has expanded its vaccinated travel lane, or VTL, program by allowing fully-vaccinated people from eight more countries to enter the island without quarantining provided they pass the COVID-19 tests.

The expanded list of countries for quarantine-free travel includes Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States starting Oct 19. The VTL program began last month with Germany and Brunei, and South Korea will be added to the list starting Nov 15.

Experts believe Singapore is capable of mitigating the risk of gradually opening its borders, even though it has been recording roughly 3,000 new COVID cases in the past few days

Experts believe Singapore is capable of mitigating the risk of gradually opening its borders, even though it has been recording roughly 3,000 new COVID cases in the past few days.

As of Oct 16, 84 percent of Singapore’s estimated 5 million population has received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, while 85 percent has received at least one dose, according to the Singapore’s health ministry.

Given Singapore’s high vaccination rate, “waiting longer to open vaccination travel lanes has little benefit and only significant downsides, as Singapore is a small country that is highly dependent on international trade and tourism,” said Hsu Li Yang, vice dean of global health and program leader of infectious diseases at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore.

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Hsu said COVID-19 vaccines are “highly effective” at providing protection against severe disease and death.  In the case of Singapore, he noted that infection rates are relatively low and that the country has succeeded to inoculate everyone who can or wish to be vaccinated at this point in time.

“Infection rates have been low in Singapore prior to September 2021, with the exception of the migrant worker population living in dormitories,” Hsu said.

“We are experiencing a surge in cases at this time with the highly infectious Delta variant, (but) the proportion of severe cases and deaths has remained low,” he added.

In an Oct 17 report, Singapore’s Ministry of Health said that over the last 28 days, more than 98 percent of the 70,192 infected individuals had no or mild symptoms.

Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, president of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said Singaporeans are now more familiar with the virus as they had to deal with it for the past two years.

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As such, they are more likely to take precautions such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing to reduce the risk of getting infected. 

Tambyah said Singaporeans also have access to publicly-available data from most of the VTL countries, allowing them to identify and avoid high-risk areas.

Singapore’s government announced in June that it is drawing a roadmap for living with COVID-19. The plan aims to prepare Singaporeans to treat the virus as part of their daily lives, allowing them to live and work as usual without having to go into quarantines and lockdowns.