The global aviation industry has been among the hardest hit business sectors amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. As nations wen into lockdown earlier this year, international travel ground to a halt, with only the most crucial travel being allowed. Domestic flights fared no better as governments worked to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Singapore has not been spared either, and is now scrambling to revive its crucial airline industry. Singapore is a small city-state in Southeast Asia with little to no natural resources. The nation’s wealth stems from being an indispensable financial hub for the SEA and APAC region. Ong Ye Kung, the transport minister, said that for a small country like Singapore, the aviation sector needs “all these connections in order to be economically viable”.

At the moment, the Southeast Asian nation has set up bilateral arrangements with several countries to allow business travel, including China, South Korea and Malaysia.

While those “reciprocal green lane” arrangements for corporate travellers keep “essential business dealings going,” they’re still “quite restrictive” and may not help to revive Singapore’s aviation sector, Ong said.

The only true solution to this issue is for general travel to resume, according to the minister. He added that the city-state is currently working on establishing so-called “travel bubbles” with countries that have kept their Covid-19 outbreaks under relative control.

The minister declined to reveal the countries that Singapore is in talks with to set up these travel bubbles. But he said China, Vietnam and Brunei are among those that have similar or better risk profiles compared to Singapore.

He explained that countries considered “safe” can be treated as “one single quarantine area” with Singapore. That means that people from those countries may not have to apply for permission to travel within the bubble, but may be tested upon arrival as a precaution.

Ong also states that Singapore should be actively exploring the option of lifting restrictions for travellers from countries of higher risks of transmission; but for such countries, quarantine requirements will likely deter travel even should the borders be reopened.

The minister named three measures that, collectively, could replace a quarantine upon arrival:

  • A protocol of repeated testing. That means testing travellers before their departure, upon arrival, and on specific days during their travel;
  • Control the venues that such travellers can go to;
  • Robust contact tracing to quickly identify people who may be infected.

The measures could allow travellers to “come in, get business done or visit a loved one — or for whatever compassionate reasons you need to come in,” said Ong.

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