Singapore moves to home recovery for Omicron: Implications for travellers

From 27 Dec 2021, Singapore will no longer send Omicron cases to NCID or dedicated isolation facilities, providing travellers some much-needed relief.

Singapore has announced that with effect from 27 December 2021, Omicron cases will be allowed to recover under the Home Recovery Programme or at community care facilities, instead of the current regime of isolation at dedicated facilities like the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). 

Travellers will no longer face a stint at NCID should they test positive for Omicron

This is a surprising (but welcome) u-turn from reports just before Christmas that the authorities had already secured 14 designated facilities for Omicron patients, and were prepared to convert another 12 for a total capacity of 11,000 people. Just yesterday, the MOH said that home recovery would be implemented for Omicron cases “in time”, which suggested it was a later rather than sooner thing. 

In any case, it’s a huge relief for many travellers, who may have read the disturbing accounts cited by Bloomberg (response from MOH here) about having to share isolation rooms with other COVID-positive travellers, and unclear criteria about just who constitutes a close contact. A Milelion reader was unfortunate enough to test positive for Omicron on arrival, spending a total of 10 days in NCID and Oasia Hotel Novena. 

No more NCID for Omicron cases

NCID Singapore

When Omicron first arrived on the scene in late November, the MOH announced that all cases would be isolated at NCID and not allowed to recover at home. Full contact tracing would be carried out, and close contacts would also be required to quarantine for 10 days at dedicated facilities instead of at home.

In a way, it felt like a return to the bad old days of March 2020, but the idea was to buy time to gain a better understanding of the transmissibility and severity of Omicron. The data so far suggests that the effects of Omicron are mild, especially with the help of booster jabs.

 Available data thus far suggests that Omicron infections face reduced risks of hospitalisation and severe disease compared to Delta infectionsLocally, our Omicron cases have so far not been severe as well – none has required intensive care or oxygen supplementation, although this may be partially due to most cases being fully vaccinated and from younger age groups

-MOH

Therefore, MOH is now allowing Omicron cases to follow Protocols 1-2-3 as with any other COVID-19 case. 

Omicron cases will be placed on the Home Recovery Programme or managed at community care facilities depending on their symptoms, instead of being isolated in dedicated facilities by default. Close contacts will be placed on Protocol 3 (which entails a 7-day Health Risk Warning) instead of a 10-day quarantine.

All Omicron patients currently in quarantine will be progressively discharged over the next few days.

Implications for travellers

No more automatic quarantine for close contacts

Close contacts of Omicron cases will no longer be automatically quarantined

One big wildcard that Omicron threw up was the possibility of getting sent to NCID (or some other dedicated isolation facility) even if you had a clean bill of health- simply because you were in close proximity to a positive case on your flight to Singapore.

With the revised protocols, you’ll instead follow Protocol 3, which involves a 7-day Health Risk Warning with daily ARTs (which you’d anyways need to do if you’re coming to Singapore under the VTL- see below). Results need to be submitted daily via go.gov.sg/agsubmit

Protocol 3

Those with HRWs can claim complimentary ART kits from vending machines. If a positive result is received, they should visit go.gov.sg/artpositive for further steps. 

Enhanced testing regime remains in place

Supervised swabbing at QTC

VTL travellers to Singapore will still be required to comply with the enhanced testing regime that is in place until 2 January 2022, 2359 hours (subject to further extension). 

Travellers aged 2 and above now need to undergo daily testing for the first seven days upon arriving in Singapore, as illustrated below:

🇸🇬 Testing Regime for VTL Travel to Singapore
DayTest
Within 2 days before departureProfessional ART/PCR 
Day 1 (arrival)Air VTL: PCR
Land VTL: ART
Day 2Self-administered ART
Day 3Supervised ART
Day 4Self-administered ART
Day 5Self-administered ART
Day 6Self-administered ART
Day 7Supervised ART
Professional ART= Someone swabs you
Self-administered ART= You swab yourself, unsupervised
Supervised ART= You swab yourself, supervised

The Day 3 & 7 tests will be conducted under supervision at a Combined Test Centre (CTC) or Quick Test Centre (QTC).

QTC/CTC Locations
Book Appointment
Children aged 3 to 12 must be accompanied by a caregiver aged 21 years old and above for supervised ART swabbing. The caregiver may be required to help administer the test if the child is unable to do so.

On Days 2, 4, 5 and 6, tests will be unsupervised and done at home (these must be done before going out for activities on that day). Travellers must submit their results from Days 2, 4, 5 and 6 tests via the portal below.

Report ART result (Land)
Report ART result (Air)

If the traveller’s day of departure from Singapore is on the day of the test, they are exempted from taking their scheduled ART on that day. The traveller’s day of departure from Singapore is defined as the scheduled day of departure of their flight or ferry, or the day they clear departure immigration if they depart by land.

Should a positive ART result be received, travellers must self-isolate immediately and book an appointment for a confirmatory PCR test at a CTC. The test must be taken no later than 1600 hours the day after testing ART positive, and will be free-of-charge. There is no need to attend their scheduled ART if it falls on the same day as the PCR test. 

Travellers should take private transport, taxi or private hire car to the CTC, and return to their place of accommodation immediately after their test. Use of public transport is not allowed.

If they were planning to depart from Singapore, they should defer their travel plans, attend their confirmatory PCR test, and await their PCR test results. They should not leave their place of accommodation other than to undergo the PCR test and until their PCR test result is confirmed to be negative.

How does this affect my travel plans for January?

Conrad Koh Samui

I was originally thinking of visiting Thailand in January, but was hit with the triple whammy of:

  1. Thailand suspending new Thailand Pass applications until at least 4 January 2022
  2. Singapore suspending the sale of VTL flights which enter Singapore between 23 December 2021 to 20 January 2022
  3. Possibly having to spend time in NCID, should I test positive for Omicron on return

(3) has now been dealt with, although (1) and (2) still pose formidable obstacles. VTL ticket sales have also been capped at 50% of the allocated quota for arrivals from 21 January 2022 onwards, which means award space will be that much harder to come by.

Then there’s the Chinese New Year factor to consider. CNY falls on 1 February 2022, and any travel plans would ideally provide enough buffer so that should the worst happen, you could recover in time for visiting. 

It could mean that I’ll have to hold off on any travel plans till after CNY, when things will hopefully calm down a bit as booster take-up rates increase and VTL capacity reverts to normal.

In any case, reading about the travel meltdowns in the USA and testing chaos in Australia also make me kind of glad I stayed in Singapore for Christmas period…

Conclusion

Singapore will move to home recovery for Omicron cases from today, a welcome development after a month of uncertainty for travellers. 

Other precautions still remain in place, such as daily ART swabbing for all VTL arrivals and a suspension of new VTL ticket sales for entry into Singapore, where the entry takes place before 20 January 2022. However, I foresee these being eased in the near future, given the positive data we have on Omicron outcomes.

In the meantime, do take your boosters as soon as you’re eligible. I did my third Moderna jab about two weeks ago as a walk-in; it was as seamless as ever before. 

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

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anon

did you take 2x Pfizer and Moderna booster?

or 3x Moderna?

Enil Esav

Interestingly, the only point from the Bloomberg article which MOH refuted was that children would not be separated from caregivers; meaning that the 3 slices of bread and butter for dinner, having to find out from the news that one tested positive for Omicron, being given conflicting advice and the other chaos mentioned, were true. It’s appalling and disappointing that even after the original and delta variant, it seems that MOH’s right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing and cannot get its act together. There’s only 2 solutions to this incompetence- don’t open up or relax the… Read more »

Max

Will they still issue HRWs to close contacts on planes? Seemingly as the day 3/7 tests are not self administered a traveller with a HRW would have to self ART on those days before going out to the supervised ART test center which seems redundant. It’s also unclear if a test taken between the exposure event and the HRW notification will satisfy the first HRW test requirement.

Adam

That’s Singapore’s covid response for you…I don’t see why it wouldn’t work though.

Benny

If plane is outside of Singapore, why should close contacts be issued HRWs

Emily Choo

This omnicorn virus will spoil so much.

Yang

Unfortunately those who got COVID after receiving 2nd dose are still not eligible for boosters yet.

Nick

I managed to get a refund for my tickets just after the yet again u turn by the garment. I called sq after reading the article on being quarantined after being tested positive for the omicron variant.surprsingly my request for a refund was granted at my third attempt. The flip flops seem like some primary school childplay with clearly a lack of direction. In any case,I would love to buy aron a meal for tirelessly providing us with all these information that looks like a ping pong match. I’m so glad to get my refund and have an unexpected break… Read more »

Marcus

While locals can recover under the Home Quarantine Program, what about short term travellers? Are they permitted to quarantine in their own hotels or are they still transferred to NCID / Oasia?

Wati

As per the guidelines, travelers coming back to Sg, to isolate after the arrival test, if the place of accommodation is not suitable, can we get a referral to a hotel ?

Nick

If you receive a HRW warning and it falls within the period you are suppose to fly. Can you still fly if tested negative that day?

Hope this is the right place to ask and someone has the experience /knowledge. I can’t seem to find any such info online.

Last edited 10 months ago by Nick

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