‘Our aviation community will stay vigilant’: S Iswaran on opening of S’pore’s borders

Changi Airport’s the gateway to Singapore for many travellers. And it’s been recovering well since the height of the ongoing pandemic: traffic there is now about four-fifths of pre-Covid-19 levels.

So, Changi Airport will carry on with its cautious and calibrated approach towards opening Singapore’s borders, said Minister for Transport S Iswaran in Parliament on Monday (Jan 9).

“The aviation community in Changi remains vigilant and is prepared to respond quickly if there are material changes in the operating environment,” said the Minister, who was delivering a ministerial statement to Parliamentary questions about China restoring quarantine-free travel with the world.

“And at all times, our priority is to protect the health of our aviation workers, travellers and the broader community,” he emphasised.

Caution is the Government’s watchword

Some of these measures include making it easier for airport workers to receive up-to-date vaccinations and stronger physical protection for frontline staff.

“We work closely with the Ministry of Health to monitor the evolving global Covid-19 situation and implement enhanced measures as necessary,” outlined Minister Iswaran.

“For example, with the recent rise in cases globally, we have stepped up our Personal Protective Equipment requirements for all airport workers performing passenger-facing and janitorial duties.”

The Changi aviation community is also encouraging (and ensuring!) that airport workers are well-vaccinated as well as well-protected: there’s a newly-established facility at the Terminal 3 Raffles Medical Group clinic.

“As of now, almost 100 per cent of the workers have attained the minimum protection as defined by the Ministry of Health. And about half have up-to-date protection,” said Minister Iswaran.

“Our aviation community will stay vigilant and stands ready to respond quickly should there be a material change in MOH’s risk assessment such as the emergence of a new variant of concern.”

Constant up-to-date calibration

This careful calibration is from the Government’s experience from running about 30 Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) from September 2021.

These VTLs (remember those?) had comprehensive safeguards, including vaccination and testing requirements, and helped establish the Vaccinated Travel Framework last April.

Using this framework, the Government responded accordingly as the pandemic evolved, removing quarantine and testing requirements for all fully-vaccinated travellers.

“From the outset, we have also paced the resumption of flights to ensure that Changi Airport has the physical and operational capacity to support the anticipated flight and passenger flows,” said Minister Iswaran.

“This has given our aviation stakeholders valuable lead time to build up their capacity while recruiting and training their workforce as China reopens its borders.”

Today, with all these calibrated strategies, China-Singapore flights are at less than 10 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels.

“As at the end of October 2022, we had 25 weekly flights between China and Singapore. As both sides gradually increased flight connectivity, this rose to 36 weekly flights around mid-December 2022,” said Minister Iswaran.

That figure has risen slightly. Today, there are 38 weekly flights between China and Singapore, after the authorities approved two more flights to Beijing. 

According to Minister Iswaran, this works out to an average of five to six flights per day at Changi.

More specifically, this means that Changi Airport receives about 700 to 1,000 inbound passengers from China daily, which is about one to one and a half per cent of the total daily arrivals there

“As with other countries previously, we will carefully restore air connectivity with China taking into consideration the prevailing public health assessment as well as Chinese capacity so that we can ensure efficient operations and a safe and smooth travel experience,” said the Minister.

Staying vigilant

The Government’s approach in opening up our air borders has made it possible for Changi Airport to manage its recovery well while allowing people in Singapore to travel again, said the Minister for Transport. 

“It has also spurred the economic recovery of our tourism-related sectors as well as consumer-facing industries and professional services.”

Source: Hanson Lu, Unsplash

In other words, the Government’s caution and care continues. 

“This measured approach has enabled a safe and orderly resumption of Singapore’s air connectivity with the world while we monitor the outcomes and evolving public health situation, assess the operational impact and decide on further moves,” said Minister Iswaran.

Cover photo credit: Nathaniel Yeo, Unsplash