Singapore slams its border shut to the world just a month after setting up quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia to ‘buy time while it studies Omicron’
Singapore will freeze the sale of tickets for arriving flights and buses under its quarantine-free travel program for four weeks from tomorrow, the government said, citing the risk from the fast-spreading Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Under the vaccinated travel lane program, Singapore allows quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travellers arriving on designated flights and buses from about two dozen countries including Australia, India, Malaysia, Britain and the United States.
But no new tickets would be issued for people hoping to arrive from any of those countries from Thursday until January 20, the government said on Wednesday.
‘Our border measures will help to buy us time to study and understand the Omicron variant, and to strengthen our defences, including enhancing our healthcare capacity, and getting more people vaccinated and boosted,’ the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Singapore will freeze the sale of tickets for arriving flights and buses under its quarantine-free travel program for four weeks from tomorrow
Singapore had set up a quarantine-free bubble with Australia just a month ago, but the government has already cancelled the agreement in the lead up to Christmas
The government said it would also reduce the VTL quotas and ticket sales for travel after January 20.
Travellers already holding VTL tickets who meet all other requirements can still travel.
The government also urged people arriving in Singapore to minimise their social interactions, avoid large gatherings and eating out for seven days even if their tests, which they have to take every day for the week, are negative.
Singapore has confirmed 65 imported Omicron cases, along with a handful of local cases.
Omicron has fast become the dominant Covid-19 strain in many countries since it emerged about a month ago, accounting for more than 70 per cent of cases in the US alone.
The variant has been found in Singapore, which has been opening its borders to select countries since October after abandoning a Covid-zero approach still pursued by the likes of China and Hong Kong.
Singapore is the latest country in south-east Asia to suspend reopening efforts in an attempt to buy time against the more transmissible variant after Thailand halted its quarantine-free entry program this week.
In Australia, there’s pressure from medical experts to bring back mandatory mask-wearing and density limits, while New Zealand has pushed back the phased reopening of its border until the end of February due to the omicron variant threat.
Government are looking to further ‘study’ the Omicron variant before re-opening to the world
Singapore is now also instructing people returning from overseas to avoid high-risk mask-off activities such as dining at restaurants or exercising in gyms for seven days after arrival, even if they test negative each day.
Previously, returnees were allowed to move freely once they tested negative.
Singapore’s local cases have plunged from a daily high of more than 4600 in late-October to just 221 on December 21, according to Ministry of Health data. Still, imported cases – most of them omicron – are on the rise to more than 50 each day.
The city-state detected its first local omicron cluster at a gym tied to three cases, the health ministry said earlier this week. The ministry’s latest release reported 280 new cases including 54 imports, but didn’t provide a breakdown on the variant.