Singapore: The Omicron variant clamping on the dream of travelling abroad

Just as the glimmer of hope of easing into the relaxation of travel restrictions finally appear, the emergence of the new variant of Covid-19 is clamping on that dream. With rising concerns of this new variant also known as Omicron, countries are circling around the conversation of travel restrictions extremely cautiously.

Effective from 29 November 2021, Singapore has expanded its Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) agreements to 18 countries. This means that fully-vaccinated travellers can travel to the VTL destinations without the need to quarantine at either countries upon arrival. These countries are Germany, France, Denmark, Brunei, Italy, United Kingdom, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Spain, USA, Canada, Australia, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Finland and Sweden.

However, with the news of the Omicron variant spreading, this has disrupted some of these existing VTL agreements and even deferred some of the upcoming ones, such as the VTL arrangements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arabs Emirates. From 6 December 2021, all travellers entering Singapore through the VTLs will have to take Covid-19 tests daily for a week upon arrival. This is on top of the current requirements, which are the swabs for a pre-departure test, an on-arrival polymerase chain reaction test (PCR test), as well as supervised antigen rapid tests (ARTs) on day 3 and day 7 of their visit.

Not only looking at leisure travelling, the Singapore Government released an immediate mandate on 4 December 2021 that employers of S Pass and work permit holders in construction, marine shipyard as well as process sectors will not be allowed to make new applications for their employees to enter the country via the VTL. This applies to employers of other dormitory-bound work pass holders as well.

Such workers can only enter Singapore via the ongoing initiatives specific towards construction, marine shipyard and process sectors or the Work Pass Holder General Lane for all other work pass holders where programmes with upstream testing and isolation in the source country exist.

Malaysians and female work pass holders however, will still be able to enter Singapore via the VTL but will be subjected to the prevailing health protocols. This is due to the reason that these individuals do not generally reside in dormitory environments.

Needless to say, these disruptions towards bringing in migrant workers continue to significantly contribute to the manpower crunch in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors. Since end-2019 when Covid-19 became rampant globally, the number of work permit holders in these sectors in Singapore has declined by more than 15%.

It is clear that the battle is not won yet, thus it is necessary to take swift actions and tighten up efforts so as to stay in control of the situation. After all, prevention is better than cure, and trudging forward slowly is better than nothing.