Spooked by Omicron, Singapore defers expanding reopening plans

A quarantine-free entry policy for vaccinated arrivals in Singapore will not be extended to more countries for now.

Any Omicron cases found in Singapore will be placed in government healthcare facilities [File: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg]

Singapore will hold off on more reopening measures while it evaluates the Omicron coronavirus variant and will increase testing of travellers and front-line workers to reduce the risk of local transmission, authorities say.

A quarantine-free entry policy for vaccinated arrivals in the Asian financial and travel hub will not be extended to more countries for now, while current social distancing measures will remain in place, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said Tuesday.

“This is a prudent thing to do for now, when we are faced with a major uncertainty,” Ong told a media briefing, adding that the variant had not yet been detected locally.

Singapore will be prioritising the use of COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests produced by Thermo Fisher for travellers. Thermo Fisher said it is able to detect the Omicron variant.

Any Omicron cases found in Singapore will be placed in government healthcare facilities rather than the home isolation so far used for mild COVID-19 cases.

Ong said Singapore’s high vaccination rate should offer some protection against the variant.

Here are details of the measures Singapore will undertake:

  • From December 3, all air travelers entering or transiting through Singapore must take a Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, test on arrival,
  • People entering via air Vaccinated Travel Lanes will have to take additional supervised rapid COVID tests on day three and seven after arrival,
  • Enhanced testing measures for inbound travelers will last initially for a month,
  • Airport and border front-line workers in contact with travellers from regions affected by Omicron will have to take weekly PCR tests,
  • Travelers from seven African states who entered Singapore between November 12 and 27 will have to take one-time PCR tests,
  • Confirmed or suspected Omicron-infected patients will be required to quarantine for 10 days in government facilities.
Interactive: Mapping Omicron casesAl Jazeera

The measures come at a time when nations around the world are at odds over how to best protect themselves against a variant for which there is little information and that has now been found in locations from South Africa to Spain, Canada and Australia.

For Singapore, a small city-state that has maintained tough restrictions since early in the pandemic, Omicron has raised fears among the population that the government may have to reconsider its approach to border reopenings at a time when general travel is just getting going.

The Southeast Asian nation, which is highly exposed to global trade winds and geopolitics, has been shifting away from a COVID-Zero approach to living with the virus.

With 85 percent of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and new infections stabilised, Singapore had recently allowed people from different households to dine together at restaurants and gather socially. It had also gradually extended its vaccinated travel lane programme to more countries before delaying those with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as a precaution amid concern about Omicron.

Source: News Agencies