Singapore re-opening plan ditches quarantine for tests, ratios

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(Nov 5): Singapore is using a plan involving ratios and testing to open its borders to as many international visitors as possible based on their home country of risk, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said.

The government looks at a country’s “observed prevalence rate” of coronavirus infections and is “mathematically, statistically” managing this to make sure that “we have [the] highest number of visitors, business travellers” possible without breaking the risk budget, Chan said.

Singapore, a small island nation dependent upon international tourism and trade, is working hard to reopen its borders. Details regarding a travel bubble with Hong Kong that wouldn’t require visitors to undergo a 14-day quarantine are expected to be announced shortly. Instead of self-isolating, travellers will need to take a Covid-19 test with a negative result.

Chan said Singapore is working on travel bubbles with other countries, urging them not to “wait for the conditions to be right” before discussions start.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said last month that Singapore can’t afford to wait a year or two for a vaccine to become widely available. The city-state plans to accept visitors as long as they agree to testing and tracing, he said in parliament on Oct 6.

The Southeast Asian nation has pledged about S$100 billion (US$74 billion) in stimulus measures to fight the effects of the pandemic, including wage subsidies and digital-transformation initiatives. Its Changi airport has the capacity to swab as many as 10,000 passengers a day and will add a dedicated testing laboratory in the next few months.

Chan said the plan for Singapore to allow increased numbers of international visitors will hopefully be a model for other countries. He noted that rapid antigen tests have brought down costs and are more convenient. However because “no test kit is ever full proof,” Singapore needs to retain the ability to track and trace.

Singapore is examining low-risk countries like Australia, Taiwan and New Zealand, where cases are fewer than 0.5 per 100,000. While Singapore, like several other countries in Asia, has done a good job of getting the outbreak under control, the virus is running rampant in Europe and the US.

New cases worldwide surged to a record, breaking through 570,000 in a single day, almost one year after the disease emerged.