By now, most people should be familiar with the arrival process for VTL passengers at Changi Airport.
You clear immigration, collect your bags, pass through customs, and head directly to the swabbing area (well, unless you’re a recently-recovered traveller, in which case you could go to Jewel for a burger).
At the swabbing area, you show the QR code which proves you’ve paid for the on-arrival PCR test (S$125), get swabbed, and head directly home where it’s roughly a 6-hour wait for results.
While it’s certainly preferable compared to an SHN, it’s far from seamless. If travel is to pick up in any meaningful way, the cost of testing (both in terms of money and time) needs to be reduced- and that’s exactly what Singapore is hoping to do in the months to come.
ART trial for arriving passengers at Changi Airport
Upon returning from Bangkok on a VTL flight yesterday, I received a complimentary Flowflex ART kit at Changi Airport, right after doing my on-arrival PCR swab.
Upon looking inside the box, I found this note
Another traveller received an Abbott Panbio kit plus the following notification:
“The Ministry of Health, Singapore (MOH) is conducting a study as part of continuous efforts to monitor the effectiveness of approved antigen rapid tests (ARTs). This validation is important to allow us to better understand the utility of ARTs in the face of Omicron and guide our testing policy. We thank you for your contribution.”
Travellers are instructed to perform the ART immediately upon arrival at home, and submit their results via an enclosed QR link. The link brings you to a form labelled “ART Performance Monitoring”, with questions on where the kit was issued (both Changi Airport and CTCs are options), travel history, and symptoms (if any).
To be clear, they’re still required to do the standard PCR test as per normal at Changi Airport.
Where is this going?
It’s clear to me that the MOH is exploring the feasibility of replacing on-arrival PCR tests with ARTs instead, and this trial will give them a better picture of relative reliability, as well as which ART kits perform better in the field (note how some get Flowflex, others Abbott Panbio or BD Art).
If ARTs pick up positive cases at roughly the same rate as PCRs, there’s a good argument to allow travellers from low-risk countries to take cheaper ARTs and minimise the time they spend in isolation.
What I could see happening in the next stage would be VTL and Category I passengers allowed to do ARTs on arrival at Changi Airport, with freedom of movement as soon as a negative result is received.
Even if travellers need to pay for the ART kits, the average price of S$5 is a heck of a lot cheaper than the S$125 currently required for a PCR test- imagine the savings for a family of four. That’s not to mention the convenience aspect, or the value of business travellers being able to step off a plane and straight into a cab to their morning meetings, without the encumberment of a 6-hour isolation.
Category II, III and IV arrivals are likely to continue doing PCR tests for a while more, given the relatively higher risk profile (yes, VTL countries are Category II, but remember the additional vaccination requirement)- and so long as an SHN is required, the real penalty is time, not cost.
As a reminder, here’s the current requirements for travellers entering under the various arrangements.
|🛂Singapore Border Restrictions by Category|
|Cat. I||Cat. II||Cat. III||Cat. IV||VTL|
|On-arrival PCR test||✔||✖||✖||✖||✔|
|Post-SHN PCR test||N/A||✔|
Singapore is issuing ART kits to selected VTL and Category I arrivals at Changi Airport, with instructions to do the swab on the same day and report the results online. This is almost certainly being done with a view to ease the on-arrival testing for low-risk countries, reducing the friction involved with post-COVID travel.
We’ve seen other COVID-endemic countries either remove on-arrival testing completely (e.g. the UK), or switch to self-administered ARTs (most of Australia). I’d even bet you even some of the more COVID-paranoid countries like Thailand will be taking a serious look at this in the next few months, if only to attract more visitors.
It’s exciting to see on-ground evidence that Singapore’s considering going down the same path, so let’s hope for some good news soon.
Recent arrivals: were you issued an ART kit at Changi?