SINGAPORE — Singapore announced Saturday it will be opening new travel lanes for vaccinated visitors from 8 more countries.
It came as its Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong predicted it will take between three to six months to get to a “new normal” of living with Covid.
The Southeast Asian country will be launching more vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) — with Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S., the transport ministry announced.
“All 8 countries are already open to travelers from Singapore. So the VTLs will restore two-way quarantine-free travel between Singapore and them,” Transport Minister S Iswaran said Saturday.
We should respect Covid-19, but we must not be paralyzed by fear.
Lee Hsien Loong
Singapore prime minister
The initiative allows quarantine-free travel for those who are vaccinated, but travelers will have to take Covid-19 tests to ensure they are not infected with the virus before entering the country.
Applications will open on Tuesday, and travelers from those countries who meet the conditions will be able to enter Singapore from Oct. 19, the minister said.
Singapore announced the initiative with South Korea on Friday. The city-state already started similar arrangements with Germany and Brunei in September.
In a national address on Saturday, Singapore’s leader Lee elaborated on when the “new normal” could occur.
“How will we know when we get to the new normal? It will be when we can ease off restrictions, have just light [safe management measures] in place, and cases remain stable – perhaps hundreds a day, but not growing,” Lee said. “When our hospitals can go back to business as usual, when we can resume doing the things we used to do, and see crowds again without getting worried or feeling strange.”
He urged the nation not to be “paralyzed by fear,” and said that “sooner or later, every one of us will meet the virus — this means all the elderly will meet the virus too.”
He said regions like Europe reached this state, but “paid for it dearly” with many lives lost.
“It will take us at least three months, and perhaps as long as six months to get to this new norm,” Lee added.
Singapore will also tighten some Covid restrictions for the unvaccinated.
Those who are not vaccinated will no longer be allowed to enter malls, said Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s trade minister and co-chair of the government’s coronavirus taskforce, in a briefing Saturday. Even those vaccinated will now be subject to a limit of two people when entering malls, he said.
The unvaccinated will also not be allowed to dine-in at coffee shops and food centers — open-air food establishments in the country, where they were previously allowed to do so, limited to two people per table.
Singapore’s ministry of health said the latest measures were aimed at protecting those who were more vulnerable, such as the unvaccinated and the elderly.
Those restrictions will kick in on Wednesday.
Singapore had maintained a zero-Covid strategy for the most part of the pandemic, but started opening up after the population’s vaccination rate hit more than 80%. As of Oct. 7, 83% of the population has completed two doses of a Covid vaccine.
But after loosening restrictions, the number of cases started spiking, reaching daily record highs and hovering above 3,400 in the last few days.
Authorities in Singapore last month tightened Covid measures again in a bid to slow community transmissions and protect hospitals from being overwhelmed. They reduced group sizes for social gatherings from five to two, and set working from home as the default, encouraging the vulnerable population such as the elderly to stay home as much as possible.
As of Friday, the total number of infections stands at 120,454, with 142 deaths. However, 98.4% of infected people over the past 28 days had no symptoms or mild symptoms, according to the country’s health ministry.