Reflections on getting fully vaccinated

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Getting fully vaxxed is another step towards normality. Here's some of my thoughts, plus plans for Q4 travel.

On Friday I received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine, which means that by 23 July, I’ll be fully vaxxed and waxed (or 50% successful, in any case). 

Call it a side effect if you want, but I was positively giddy after getting the shot- with excitement. It’s not just the knowledge that you’ll soon be protected against COVID-19 and much less likely to infect a loved one; it’s also the sense that after all this time, there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel. 

We can have endless debates about how the Singapore government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether they were too slow with certain measures or too hasty with others. When it’s all said and done however, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be in a time like this. 

Vaccination center in Singapore | Photo: Straits Times

The fact that Singapore had the foresight to bet on the right vaccines and the financial muscle to get to the top of the queue is something to be thankful for, as is not having to bribe a doctor, worry about fake vaccination centres, or fly across the globe to get a jab. Many of the horrors we saw overseas like mass graves, overflowing ICUs, or equipment shortages forcing doctors to decide which patients lived or died never materialized here, and although 36 deaths is 36 too many, it could have been a lot worse. 

And sure, I was a bit disappointed when the dates for my age group kept getting pushed back, but it seems churlish to complain about a short delay, especially when some developed nations are well behind us.

Seriously, the ability to choose from two proven, effective (and free!) vaccines is a privilege that few people around the world have. There are many who would kill to be in our position. Get your shot, get protected, get on with life.

So with vaccination done, the big question now is: what next?

What changes now?

Travel

Changi Airport won’t be crowded for the foreseeable future

Even for fully vaccinated Singaporeans, travel is unlikely to be a realistic proposition until September at the earliest. While some countries will accept vaccinated tourists without quarantine, all travellers entering Singapore are still required to do a 14-day SHN, regardless of vaccination status. That effectively adds S$2,000 and two weeks to your trip, a deal-breaker for most. 

But the government has already dropped plenty of hints that the SHN requirement will soon be waived for vaccinated travellers, as part of their plans to reopen borders. This will no doubt be tied to hitting a certain critical mass of vaccinations, and the goal is to get 66% of the population protected by National Day. Do that, and I have a sneaking suspicion PM Lee will have a major announcement to make at the rally on 22 August. 

In terms of where vaccinated Singaporeans can go, the idea is to open up to places that have  met certain thresholds in terms of vaccination rates and new cases. In an interview with the Straits Times, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung suggested the following heuristic:

“Once a place’s (Covid-19) infection rate is going down, vaccinations are going up and you go below, say, two or three infections per 100,000, we should start monitoring those countries seriously.”

“Some parts of the EU” and the USA were mentioned as specific examples, and here’s some figures to consider (I’ve only taken countries with direct flights to Singapore, since transits could be messy business in the current climate):

Country🠗 New Cases Per 100,000Fully Vaccinated
UK43.751%
Spain31.844%
Netherlands18.439%
Denmark9.038%
USA5.648%
Turkey5.020%
Switzerland2.738%
Italy1.636%
Germany0.841%
France0.535%
New cases refers to seven-day average. Data as of 9 July 2021 from Bloomberg and NY Times

As you can see, only a handful of European nations would fall into the <3 cases per 100,000 category, and with the more contagious Delta variant now taking root on the continent, the numbers could get worse before they get better. 

What about travel within ASEAN and the broader Asia Pacific region? The vaccination situation is less positive, with many countries still in the single digits and progressing at a snail’s pace. That said, cases are fairly modest (with the exception of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand), and leisure travel might yet be on the cards assuming vaccinated Singaporeans are welcome. 

Country🠗 New Cases Per 100,000Fully Vaccinated
Malaysia22.810%
Indonesia12.15.4%
Thailand9.64.6%
South Korea2.011%
Japan1.416%
Vietnam1.30.3%
Taiwan0.20.3%
Australia0.28.3%
Hong Kong~0.023%
New Zealand~0.010%
New cases refers to seven-day average. Data as of 9 July 2021 from Bloomberg and NY Times

That’s not a given though. The Hong Kong government was recently urged by lawmakers to scrap the planned ATB with Singapore, given our abandonment of a “COVID-zero” strategy. Given the importance of cross-border travel between Hong Kong and China, and the latter’s emphasis on eliminating rather than containing COVID, the prospect of a leisure travel bubble just got dimmer.

Similarly, Singapore Airlines announced last month that it’s no longer working towards a timeline for the Singapore-Australia travel bubble, and that’s probably the last we’ve heard of it till the end of 2021.

Japan is now administering more than 1 million doses a day | Photo: Reuters

But something might yet happen with Japan, now that the country is administering more than one million doses per day and hoping to vaccinate everyone who wants a shot by November. Taiwan has been floating around as a possibility, as has South Korea. 

So if you asked me, here’s what I’m betting on for Q4:

  • USA
  • Germany
  • France
  • Switzerland
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Hong Kong (I still think they’ll try to work out something, but I’m less confident than I was a month ago)

Do keep in mind there are numerous issues still to be worked out before quarantine-free travel becomes a reality: 

  • What happens to those who are aged under 12 or unable to be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons?
  • How will countries recognise each other’s vaccination regimes? What happens to those who were vaccinated overseas and only have paper records?
  • How will vaccines not approved under Singapore’s national vaccination program but administered overseas (e.g. Astra-Zeneca, Johnson&Johnson) be recognised? 
  • Will transiting in a country with a higher COVID-19 risk require you to serve quarantine on return to Singapore?

Smarter minds than mine are no doubt working on this already, but even if travel does resume, don’t expect Changi Terminals 2 and 4 to reopen anytime soon. Terminals 1 and 3 are already providing more than sufficient capacity for the ~170,000 passengers traveling in and out of Singapore each month. 

Non-travel

If you’ve received at least one vaccine dose, get your free Shake Shack fries by 15 July

Travel aside, the more immediate changes will come towards the end of July when differentiated measures for vaccinated individuals kick in. Some carrots include:

  • Being able to meet or dine in groups of up to eight people
  • Raising the cap for large activities like concerts or weddings to 500 people
  • Allowing more workers to return to office (well, “carrot” is all a matter of perspective)

Some companies are also offering incentives for vaccinated individuals. Here’s a website compiling the various perks. 

Conclusion

One unfortunate trend I’ve noticed recently is a growing number of keyboard warriors who get a kick out of doom-mongering or putting down anyone who dares to make travel plans. You might argue they’re just being conservative, but some of it feels mean-spirited, in a “if I can’t enjoy myself, you can’t either” way.

There’s every reason for Singaporeans to feel optimistic about quarantine-free travel in Q4 2021. Sure, things can always go south quickly, but there’s nothing wrong with making (flexible) plans and having something to look forward to. 

I do look forward to the day when we can ditch the masks, drink alcohol after 10.30 p.m, listen to live music or enjoy the many other small things (like entering/exiting a mall from any door) the pandemic has taken away. It won’t all happen at once, but vaccination means we’re one step closer. 

In the meantime, do encourage your unvaccinated friends and family (especially the elderly) to get their jabs. Look, if Bill Gates really wanted to control your mind, he could already do it via the 5G towers. 

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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JW19

Looking at the list of countries available with the rates you have worked out, I actually don’t really mind HK not being an option moving forward, I mean compared to Japan and Taiwan, forgoing a totalitarian regime that only thinks highly of themselves doesn’t hurt too much from a traveller perspective, though I spare a thought for families torn apart by this medical and ideological divide.

ZYX

Thankfully I’d been to many corners of HK on many occasions including the 30th vigil. Think I’d avoid HKG at all cost, despite I still hold 2000 HKD cash and Octopus Pass with >100HKD balance.

HQ20

I’m not sure Japanese sentiments want you back as much as you enjoy visiting Japan. Foreigners are less clean and more likely to have covid-19 as a result you know.

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/tokyo-japan-hotel-apologises-japanese-only-elevator-signs-15205154

Syok

How about China? Big enough to explore for a bit though

ZYX

Since Tokyo has decided to go on with no audience, China could very likely follow suits. Unless you want to undergo at least 14-day quarantine, plus any stupid additional local requirements of quarantine.

D K

You mean per rectal swabs?

ZYX

That’s actually the least of concern compared to unknown length of quarantine

Edmond

So any plans for yourself on q4?

Kopi lim

Most western countries are off limits for me as I’m not built like Brock Lesnar and am rather wary of getting beaten to a pulp by the anti-Asian extremists over there…

Anon

Japan is not gonna open up anytime soon. They are still not even allowing long-term residents back easiy..

Jimmy

I think Japan will have their national election due by November this year and the majority party has just lose some grounds in last week’s Tokyo local election. General sentiment among local Japan community is still lean towards disagreeing on opening Japan border too quickly even for business travellers. Given all these, I am not too optimistic that Japan will allow international leisure tourists to get into their country soon. Personal guess is that it will be some time late Q1 or even Q2 next year the earliest.

Jimmy

I hope I were too pessimistic on the timing when leisure travel to Japan is possible though.

anon

I am following Japan closely. But as long as their long-term residents have issues going back, tourism is still a dream. I would say earliest is Q2 2022.

Irfan

Hi, any view on UAE (Dubai/Abu Dhabi) whether they will open for tourism in Q4 2021? I heard their vaccination rate is quite high.

anon

Unless UAE tightens their quarantine requirements, i dont think SG will lift ours

TS77

Sorry Aaron, the UK fully vaccinated numbers are way off, the UK are currently 66% fully vaccinated, appreciate there is a time lag that you’ve called out.

Sadly the case numbers I’m sure will rocket after the weekend of football and tennis.

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/vaccinations

Custard

I think you could be using one dose vs fully vaccinated. Our world in data throws up 68% one dose, fully vacc 51%. It is very comprehensive and up to date (although this is the first time I noticed there is a lag of 1 day. Could be the weekend):

https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

Mei

Well-written article especially on the thoughts on no better place to be in at this time which I totally agree. I’ve hedged my ticket on HK for Dec but like you said, remains to be seen how the HK govt will work out on this given then having a zero covid stance.

Peng Liu Siong

why you get moderna liao

Tom

It will be interesting to see how that ‘cases per 100,000’ concept changes (or not). It’s curious to see that as a metric being evaluated for other regions while at the same time the government is moving away from that data-point domestically (and focusing instead of hospitalizations and deaths). The Singaporean government has also acknowledged that ‘cases’ will increase (but not a significant concern given high vaccination levels) as the economy re-opens so given other countries, predominantly in Europe and the US, have adopted the ‘endemic model’ in advance of Singapore it would be expected that their ‘cases’ also rise… Read more »

George

I know Singapore announced over a month ago that they are moving towards number of hospitalizations and vaccination rates insteas of daily cases but have you seen any evidence of that even happening? What’s the headline number you see on your daily WhatsApp / Straits times / Telegram / gov.sg notification? Number of daily [email protected]#$% cases.

Tom

Totally agree. Other than removing individual-specific data, “cases” continues to be the headline number.

Polo

Thanks for the article. I love the optimism. I felt the same thing after my first doe last week. Looking froward!

Adam

can’t wait for Singapore to open doors to the US, separation from loved ones really really hurts…

Dave

50 people allowed per cinema – Can you book a cinema for the next Milelion Advanced FFP workshop?

(yeah, I know “In-person tuition and enrichment classes” are also up to 50, so here we go 😉 )

Last edited 10 months ago by Dave
Dave

First wedding for which I’d happily bring an ang bao!

freedom

Taiwan is also unlikely as the vaccine rollout is slower than ANZ….

US/Europe is cold during Winter, unless for ski.

freedom

Taiwan has 20+ million people. They only receive 1 million after another by donations from US/Japan. Time for delivery of10 million doses Pfizer/BioNTech is also uncertain.

Nelson

To visit TW in Q4 is plausible given their average 220k+ doses per day (if my TW clients’ info is correct!) – though folks there have been fed daily with fake news and/or political tripe to dissuade them from being vaccinated ASAP. Let’s see…

Vexing Nation

One must also consider how the receiving country treats close contacts of a positive case.

In the Phuket sandbox, all passengers on a number of flights have been forced into quarantine (at their own cost) because one of them tested positive on arrival.

As plane loads increase and if passengers departing Singapore are mixed with transit passengers, the chance of your holiday being ruined increases quite a bit even if you are negative on arrival. This is one roll of the dice I’m not willing to take.

Justin

What are the odds of a special SQ flight to HNL?

Salmon Lee

Thanks for this, as always. I just find it weird that there are people in various cities / countries talking about different strategies (elimination versus containment of the virus) and hence a travel bubble is no longer possible. Isn’t the creation / existence of an ATB supposed to be based on the number of cases (unlinked ones in the case of the HK one) and maybe the level of infections, hospitalisations etc? Or eventually vaccination rates, or proof of one? If one side prefers to adopt a strategy of containment, but can keep the infection rates and/or number of cases… Read more »

Snapper Li

Early reports indicate that when Singapore adopts the new classification of covid as an endemic, there will no longer be massive contact tracing and quarantine of cases and their close contacts. There will also not be monitoring of daily infection numbers, which means we won’t even have the “number of cases” for the other side to judge if we are within the threshold. It will be treated like the flu, where if you suspect you have covid, you could get yourself an antigen test kit at the pharmacy and seek medical help if needed. Also treated like the flu, it… Read more »

Salmon Lee

I don’t believe there would be no statistic announced on the number of infections and hospitalisation. If that happens it’d be because no one cares anymore and that will also long be the official end of the pandemic by WHO standards, by which time no ATB would be necessary.

Last edited 10 months ago by Salmon Lee
freedom

Singapore will not monitor active COVID cases just like flu. There will be statistics about seriously ill or hospitalised cases, but mild cases and whether linked or unlinked will not be important statistics Singapore monitors, but HK still looks at those.

Last edited 10 months ago by freedom
Snapper Li

It’s not up to you to believe or not to believe when these are facts.

The whole idea of an endemic is that transmission is accepted and no longer monitored or aimed to be prevented.

ZYX

Unfortunately, this endemic perspective is based on the presumption that existing vaccines are still highly effective to new mutant in the future…which may not be the case.

Snapper Li

There is not a presumption that the vaccines are entirely effective in preventing transmission, endemic means we accept and live with the virus in a managed way. We no longer seek to eliminate the virus entirely. For example, Hepatitis B and influenza are endemic to Singapore. It’s just a part of life. There is some comfort in that current data shows that the vaccines are still highly effective. Even though some transmission may still occur, the symptoms are milder and less likely to be fatal. In the same way influenza was fatal in 1918, now it has become a still… Read more »

Frederic

Another consideration is that some European countries are talking about rolling out a ‘health pass’ (proof of vaccination, PCR test or recovery) to gain access to restaurants, museums, shopping malls, etc. or to take public transportation. France will start in August. For us who got vaccinated in Singapore, it means that until the EU recognizes Singapore vaccination certificates, trips to those countries might not only be pointless, but actually very challenging.

Frederic

To add on, and more generally, how are we – Singapore-vaccinated people – be able to cross EU ‘domestic’ borders (air, train or road) if our certificates are not accepted? Does anyone have any recent experience with this?

Frederic

Got good news from a discussion group on Facebook. It seems that the paper version of the Singapore vaccination certificate was good enough for most users to travel to and in Europe, as long as it was Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Hyyy

Didn’t see Iceland on the list, I was expecting Iceland on the list from Europe perspective… real possibility…. blue lagoonnnnnn

ZYX

Because there’s no direct flight between SG and Iceland. You have to enter EU somewhere first.

Sam

Pre departure testing for entry into the US can be done with Antigen rapid testing right, which is much cheaper than the RT-PCR tests

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