Singapore aims to relax more virus curbs, including starting to allow quarantine-free travel in September, marking the first time it’s set out a timeline to reopen borders that have been mostly shut for more than a year.
The Southeast Asian city-state expects to have fully vaccinated 80% of its population by then, placing the nation in a solid position to move forward with reopening, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament on Monday.
Wong’s comments sent shares of flagship carrier Singapore Airlines Ltd. and airport ground-handler SATS Ltd. spiking. SIA shares rose as much as 2.2% while SATS climbed as much as 2.3%, even as the benchmark Straits Times Index slipped.
The higher inoculation rate will allow authorities to ease measures, including allowing larger gatherings of fully vaccinated people. The country will also be able to start reopening borders and establishing travel corridors with other countries or regions that have infections under control. Wong’s comments come as other ministers also reiterated on Monday a pledge to push ahead with reopening despite recent setbacks.
“While other countries may have come to terms with a certain level of Covid -19 cases and even deaths, this is not the choice we want to make in Singapore,” Wong said, explaining restrictions that were reimposed last week. “At the same time, there is no need to wait for everyone to be vaccinated before we begin to open up. That would mean holding back the entire reopening timeline until much later in the year, which is not tenable.”
If Singapore hits its vaccination target, it could stake a claim as arguably the world’s best-vaccinated financial capital. Already, the city-state has given at least one dose to about 75% of the population, which ranks eighth on the Bloomberg global vaccine tracker overall among economies tracked and best in the world among countries with more than 5 million people.
One of the world’s success stories in containing the virus, Singapore suffered a setback in mid-July after infections spread in karaoke lounges and a fishery port that supplies produce to markets all over the island. More than 1,000 people have been infected in the clusters, and the city set a daily record of local virus cases.
Easing for Vaccinated
With already more than half of its population fully vaccinated, Singapore was aiming to raise this figure to two-thirds by its Aug. 9 independence day, pegging the easing of measures to these milestones. But the outbreaks and growing concern that 200,000 elderly have yet to be vaccinated prompted authorities to tighten curbs, raising questions as to whether the city-state was deviating from its reopening path.
“The answer is a clear no. We are determined to get to our destination of being a Covid-resilient Singapore. But our journey must take into account public health realities,” Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said in a separate speech. “Sometimes, we may need to take a detour if we see hazards ahead. This way we can ensure that we will get to our final destination safely, even though it may take a little longer.”
Authorities will review existing virus curbs in early August based on factors such as the overall infection rate. A positive outcome will allow the government to ease some of the measures — but only for vaccinated people, Wong said.