While Singapore has unilaterally opened its borders to countries like Australia, Brunei, and New Zealand, reciprocity has been in short supply. Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung lamented as much earlier this week, in an interview with MoneyFM:
“Unfortunately, we are the only safe place in the world that is opening up to others like that. If only others start to do it, then we’ll have a bubble, you have reciprocity, you can start to travel. And I hope some time this year we can do that.”
However, today comes a report from the Sydney Morning Herald that Australia and Singapore are working to open an all-purpose travel bubble by July this year. And from the way it’s being described, this sounds like more than just idle speculation.
Proposed Australia – Singapore Travel Bubble
Under the proposed bubble, Australians would be allowed to travel to Singapore for work or leisure without approval from the Department of Home Affairs, provided they have been vaccinated.
|🇦🇺 Can’t Australians already enter Singapore without approval?
|Remember: While Singapore has lifted its restrictions on visitors from Australia, restrictions remain on the Australian side. Australians are currently not permitted to travel overseas without approval from the Australian government.
Likewise, Singaporean nationals who have been vaccinated would be able to travel to Australia for work, study or holidays, without the need to do a two week quarantine.
New Zealand is also mentioned as a potential third party in the agreement, as is the possibility of Singapore becoming a “quarantine hub” through which visitors from other countries (especially Australians stranded overseas) would quarantine en route to Australia. This would then relieve some pressure on Australian quarantine facilities.
|Update: The MFA has issued a statement clarifying that although a travel bubble is under discussion, Singapore is not considering becoming a quarantine centre or vaccination hub
Central to this plan is the idea of a vaccination passport, similar to the Travel Pass Initiative that IATA is working on. Singapore Airlines has already started testing this app for flights to London, with a full rollout planned by the end of March. While it’s unclear whether that will be the specific solution used, what’s clear is the need for each country to recognise the others’ digital vaccine certificates.
Vaccinated Australians are already able to access a digital certificate through the ExpressPlus Medicare app, and the Australian government is working to make their certificates inter-operable with those of other countries. Singaporeans currently receive a physical certificate, although digital copies are also being worked on.
While a travel bubble with Australia would be music to the ears of many a travel-starved Singaporean, the proposed arrangement could also be a boon for Singapore’s hotels and aviation industry- not just from Australians coming in the other direction, but from travelers using Singapore as a transit point en route to down under.
Of course, if Singapore starts to serve as an “offshore quarantine hub”, an increase in imported COVID-19 cases is the likely result. There would need to be strict measures in place to prevent leakage into the general community (although arguably no more strict than they already are), and arrivals carefully calibrated to prevent overstressing our own capacity.
Further discussions are scheduled to happen in the coming months between Australia’s Trade Minister Dan Tehan and Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
What’s the situation with flights?
Singapore Airlines has currently only announced its schedule up till May 2021, which features flights to :
- Adelaide: 3x weekly
- Brisbane: 6x weekly for March, increasing to 7x weekly from April
- Melbourne: 7x weekly
- Perth: 7x weekly
- Sydney: 14x weekly for March, increasing to 17x weekly from April
Sydney, incidentally, is set to become Singapore Airlines’ busiest passenger route from April.
Qantas is not yet operating regular international flights (except rescue services, and services to New Zealand), although its latest update states an intention to resume these from 31 October 2021. However, should the travel bubble proceed, I imagine there’d be no hesitation in adding capacity.
While Singapore had a false start with the Hong Kong travel bubble, this proposed arrangement with Australia is shaping up to be very promising. Australia only just recorded its first local COVID-19 case in more than two weeks, and in general has done a great job of controlling the outbreak with its system of contract tracing and quarantine.
As it stands, the general population in Singapore is set to receive vaccinations from April, and there’s been positive news on the vaccine delivery front lately, with supplies arriving ahead of schedule.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed this works out.
(Photo: Today Online)