Singapore extends quarantine-free entry as Asia shifts to ‘living with COVID’
Singapore announced on Thursday that it would lift quarantine requirements for all vaccinated travelers from next month, joining a series of countries in Asia moving more firmly towards a “living with the virus” approach. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the financial center will also remove requirements for wearing masks outdoors and allow larger groups to gather.
“Our fight against COVID-19 has reached a major turning point,” Lee said in a televised address that was also streamed on Facebook. “We will take a decisive step towards life with COVID-19. “Singapore was one of the first countries to move from a lockdown strategy to a new COVID normal for its 5.5 million people, but had to slow down some of its easing plans due to subsequent outbreaks. .
Now, as infection surges caused by the Omicron variant are beginning to subside in most countries in the region and vaccination rates are improving, Singapore and other countries are removing a host of distancing measures social media designed to stop the spread of the virus. Singapore began lifting quarantine restrictions for vaccinated travelers from certain countries in September, with 32 countries on the list ahead of Thursday’s extension to vaccinated visitors from any country.
Japan this week lifted restrictions on Tokyo and 17 other prefectures that had limited hours for restaurants and other businesses. South Korea, where COVID infections this week topped 10 million but appear to be leveling off, pushed back a restaurant curfew to 11 p.m., stopped enforcing vaccine passes and dropped the quarantine for vaccinated travelers arriving from abroad.
Indonesia this week dropped quarantine requirements for all overseas arrivals, and Southeast Asian neighbors Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia took similar measures as they seek to rebuild tourism sectors. Indonesia is also lifting a travel ban for a Muslim holiday in early May that traditionally sees millions of people flock to villages and towns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Australia will lift its entry ban for international cruise ships next month, ending all major COVID-related travel bans after two years. New Zealand this week ended mandatory vaccine passes to visit restaurants, cafes and other public spaces. It will also lift vaccination mandates for a number of sectors from April 4 and open borders to those on visa waiver programs from May.
Hong Kong, which has recorded the most deaths per million people in the world in recent weeks, plans to ease some measures next month, lifting bans on flights from nine countries, reducing quarantine and reopening schools after a backlash from businesses and residents.
Singapore travel and motion stocks surged on Thursday, with ground handling firm SATS gaining nearly 5% and Singapore Airlines gaining 4%. Shares of public transport and taxi operator Comfortdelgro Corp rose 4.2%, their biggest one-day rise in 16 months. The Straits Times Index rose 0.8%. Lee said Singapore officials would continue to remove restrictions at a measured pace.
“After this major milestone, we will wait a bit for the situation to stabilize,” he said. “If all goes well, we will relax again.” In addition to allowing up to 10 people to gather, Singapore will scrap the 10:30 p.m. curfew on restaurants and liquor sales, and allow more employees to return to their workplaces. , mask-wearing mandates remain in place in several places, including South Korea and Taiwan, while face coverings are nearly ubiquitous in Japan.
China remains a major obstacle, sticking to a policy of “dynamic clearance” to eradicate outbreaks as quickly as possible. It reported about 2,000 new confirmed cases for Wednesday. The latest outbreak is tiny by global standards, but the country is rigorously testing, sealing off hotspots and isolating infected people in quarantine facilities to avoid a surge that could strain its health system.