SINGAPORE – Singapore is lifting some border restrictions, but recovery in its important aviation sector remains challenging amid the uncertain course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s transport minister said.
“The fact remains that it will be a long way because while some countries are more advanced in vaccination, others are still trying to vaccinate their populations,” S. Iswaran told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Friday.
“And at the same time, the virus is in different phases in different parts of the world, and therefore countries have also taken different types of border measures,” the minister said.
The aviation sector contributes around 3% to Singapore’s gross domestic product.
Singapore is a city-state with no domestic air travel market. As a result, both the aviation sector and flagship airline Singapore Airlines have been hit hard by travel restrictions that countries have imposed to limit the spread of Covid.
The Singapore government announced several steps on Thursday to reopen its borders by allowing certain tour groups to skip the quarantine upon arrival in the city-state. These groups include vaccinated travelers from Germany and Brunei as well as both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers from Hong Kong and Macau – provided they meet certain conditions.
Iswaran said the “vaccinated itineraries” agreement with Germany and Brunei could help Singapore’s aviation sector recover.
“But I think we have to be pretty realistic that it is a challenging path and we have to accept that there is a dynamic profile that reacts to the situations that develop,” he added.
Singapore and Hong Kong planned to launch a highly anticipated air travel bubble that would enable quarantine-free vacation travel. The plan has been postponed twice due to rising Covid cases, and both cities announced on Thursday that the travel bubble had been lifted.
Covid situation in Singapore
Singapore has one of the highest Covid vaccination rates in the world. Around 77% of the approximately 5.69 million residents have completed their vaccination by Wednesday, said the Ministry of Health.
The Southeast Asian country further eased social distancing measures this week. The easing includes increasing the number of attendees for business conferences and live performances, as well as allowing more people to return to their jobs.
Even with Singapore’s high vaccination rate, measures such as wearing masks are still necessary to minimize the risk of Covid transmission, Iswaran said.
“The reason is that, while vaccination provides protection, we need to complement the other safe management measures, especially considering some of the new variants like Delta, which still have fairly high portability,” said the minister.