Earlier this week, Singapore became the most fully vaccinated country in the world, and is now easing, slowly but surely into the Arrival Revival of international travel; reopening to Germany and Brunei next week.
Ronney Ng, who sells souvenirs in Singapore’s Chinatown, can hardly wait for the country to reopen its borders now that 80 per cent of its population has been inoculated against COVID-19 – one of the world’s best vaccination rates.
“Our business depends almost entirely on tourists; it is very tough for us if they are not visiting Singapore,” said Ng, who added that he can no longer afford three meals a day.
The regional travel hub, with about 5.7 million residents, is among the first countries to reopen in the region, albeit slowly.
Masks are still mandatory in almost all public settings, group sizes are limited and a contact-tracing app is required.
Starting next week, Singapore will allow quarantine-free entry to vaccinated visitors from just two countries: Germany and Brunei.
Although such a guarded approach is likely to delay recovery of the tourism industry, other nations with low infection rates will be watching.
“Singapore is a good example for Australia to pay attention to because we are probably going to be in a similar situation – we need to open up and we need to do it in a way that COVID-19 is going to become endemic,” said Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital.
Others in Asia Pacific such as New Zealand and Taiwan also had early success against the virus, but remain shut.
“We will move step by step – not in one big bang like some countries, but cautiously and progressively, feeling our way forward,” Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said on Sunday, reiterating that it was not possible to bring cases down to zero even with long lockdowns.
Vaccination is the pillar of Singapore’s reopening plans, and, with an economy that shrank by a record 5.4 per cent last year, it cannot afford to stay closed for too long.
In 2019, Singapore welcomed a record 19.1 million travellers – more than three times its total population.
Sung Eun Jung at Oxford Economics estimates travel and tourism contribute as much as 11 per cent to Singapore’s economy. But Singapore’s strict reopening plans mean the industry may reach pre-pandemic levels only by 2023, she said.
Amir Khan, who sold carpets to customers from Southeast Asia, Europe and China before the pandemic, said there are days his store in a Malay heritage enclave does not have a single customer.
“The slower the reopening is, the longer we suffer,” Khan said.
Last Friday, the CEO of The Qantas Group, Alan Joyce, announced plans to restart international Qantas flights from Australia in mid-December to a number of destinations, including Singapore.
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