In Focus
ECONOMY | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Singapore's COVID-19 ‘elimination' strategy may delay opening borders past 2022

Inbound tourist arrival fell to more than 80% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Government responses to battle the COVID-19 pandemic have divided countries into two camps that will affect how soon each country opens its borders for international travel, according to a research by Jefferies.

The research said countries that fall under the "suppression" category are those that aim to minimize COVID-19 cases, whilst countries under the "elimination" category are those that aim for "zero cases".

Jeffries believes that countries that fall under the elimination category will take longer to open their borders than those under the suppression category.

Singapore is one of the countries aiming for zero COVID-19 cases. Other countries Jefferies mentioned that also fall under this category are Hong Kong, China, New Zealand, and Australia

Like other countries with an elimination strategy, Singapore may likely see an opening of its borders for those with the ‘suppression’ strategy well past 2021 and into 2022. Even a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases might not be enough to sway countries with the "zero case" approach.

“Imagine the USA getting down from many thousands of cases per day to hundreds per day—this may still not be low enough for places like New Zealand or Australia to open up their borders for American travelers. Thus, it is possible that some parts of Asia and Oceania continue to keep significant travel restrictions in place beyond 2021, into 2022, or even 2023,” the research said.

Though Singapore still keeps a tight watch on its borders, it is gradually opening up by allowing short-term visitors in via the Fast Lane/Reciprocal Green Lane arrangements, Air Travel Pass, and Air Travel Bubble arrangements with countries that Singapore has agreement with like Mainland China, Republic of Korea, Germany, Japan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Vaccination won’t hasten reopening

With vaccination programs rolling out, countries with high cases like the United Kingdom and United States may see a significant drop in COVID-19 cases, but Jefferies argues that governments invested in the "zero case" approach will be hard pressed to open borders.

“Imagine a scenario where due to vaccines and social distancing, the very high case numbers in the USA and UK start to reduce. By the middle of 2021, cases in some European countries have fallen to less than 1,000 per day. That’s a marked improvement, but even at those levels, governments that take zero case approaches will not want to be seen as exposing their populations to the risk of inbound infection. As a result, they will very likely keep their travel restrictions and significant quarantines in place for some time,” Jefferies said.

Singapore still continues to have a cautious approach towards the vaccine, even with the government’s own plans to have every citizen vaccinated by the end of 2021.

According to Multi-ministry Taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong, vaccinated travellers to the country are still subject to Stay-Home Notice requirements.

Singapore is now transitioning to Phase 3 with gatherings scaling up to eight people from five, increase in capacity limits of premises, and other changes. However, outside factors like the new coronavirus variants, may affect how travel to and from the country.

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