Why doesn’t Singapore single out China?

Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Yee Kong told Parliament on Monday that the government is not imposing new restrictions on travelers from China because limited flight capacity, combined with its existing border policies, has resulted in fewer imported cases – and even fewer severe cases – coming from China. .

Ong said the government was “fully aware” that some Singaporeans were concerned that an influx of visitors from China could lead to a spike in infections.

New Covid rules are making some Chinese travelers go to their Plan B destinations

But he said the volume of travel between Singapore and China is “very low” – less than 1,000 people arrive from China every day.

“So far, we operate 38 weekly flights from China to Singapore, compared to around 400 flights before Covid,” he said.

Ong acknowledged that a new, more dangerous variant could emerge from China as the virus spreads among its 1.4 billion people, but said that so far, this has not materialized.

With universal vaccination coverage, we can treat Covid-19 as an endemic disease.

Ong Yi Kong

Singaporean Minister of Health

Ong said Singapore is monitoring this through GISAID, a nonprofit organization he said obtains viral sequence data from authorities in major Chinese cities and provinces, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Sichuan, which is processed at GISAID’s office in Singapore.

Although there are “gaps in the data,” Ong said, “so far, the data shows that the epidemic in China is driven by variants that are well known and spread to other regions of the world” — namely BA.5.2 and BF.7.

The current rules are effective

So far, more than a dozen countries have announced new rules for visitors from China. But Ong said Singapore has not done so, as it already has effective border measures in place.

“Many countries have dismantled all their border procedures,” he said. “Singapore…kept the relevant measures precisely because we anticipated these risks.”

Singaporean Health Minister Aung Yee Kong attends a meeting at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on October 27, 2022.

Sonny Tumbilaka | Afp | Getty Images

He said that while “many Singaporeans have forgotten this,” all travelers must either be fully immunized or test negative for Covid before entry, the same requirement Spain recently announced for travelers from China.

While South Korea reports that up to 80% of imported cases come from China, Ong said that in December, less than 5% of imported cases in Singapore — about 200 people — were from China, while “ASEAN countries account for more than 50%.”

In the same month, he said, seven imported cases became seriously ill, and only one was from China.

“Most of them are Singaporeans returning from these countries and regions,” he said. “These are not large numbers, so the impact on our health care system was very small.”

Singapore’s biggest concern

The government’s “biggest concern” is the emergence of a new, more dangerous variant that could escape vaccine protection – the “nightmare variant”. [that] It could take us almost back to square one.”

If that happens, “we may need to reinstate measures such as strict border controls, quarantine of travelers, and social restrictions including restricting group sizes, until a new and effective vaccine is developed.”

To monitor this, he said, Singapore would remain connected to the “global monitoring system”.

Another major concern, Ong said, is protecting Singapore’s healthcare system. He said that during the early stages of the pandemic, infection was the government’s primary concern, but with the introduction of vaccines, it is now focusing on severe infections.

He said 60% of those aged 18 and over were aware of immunizations at the end of 2022.

“In the past 30 days, the number of Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit has been below single digits,” he said. “Thus, with widespread vaccination coverage, we can treat Covid-19 as an endemic disease.”

Why other rules may not work

Ong questioned the effectiveness of some of the travel rules imposed on Chinese travellers:

  1. PCR tests on arrival are “very late, because the travelers are already within your borders,” and, in addition to being sensitive, means they will “yield a large number of positive cases from countries that are experiencing or have just experienced a big wave,” as they can Recovering travelers shed dead viral fragments for weeks.
  2. Aircraft sewage tests Reliance on solid waste, which will be of limited benefit since the flight time from China to Singapore is not long.
  3. Pre-departure tests can be “helpful… [to] Reducing the number of imported infections “But the reduced volume of travel between Singapore and China” limits the number of imported infections even further.

Ong added that if Singapore tests all travelers from China, questions will arise about travelers from other regions contributing to more infections and severe cases.

Describing the Covid outbreak as “the new norm,” Ong said, “Today it is China, tomorrow it is another region.”

Raslan Rahman | Afp | Getty Images

Moreover, by trigger [pre-departure tests] On travelers from a part of the world with high numbers of infections, are we contributing to an international precedent for imposing tests on travelers from countries experiencing a wave of infections? “

“How will other countries deal with travelers from Singapore when we face another wave of infections?” Ong added.

“we don’t discriminate”

Increase flights with China

It seems that Singapore remained in favor of the Chinese government and its people. Chinese travelers are now heading to Singapore, as well as Thailand, because “both countries welcome us,” Ren said.

Singapore Airlines restored passenger service from Singapore to Beijing in late December. To start, the service will only run twice a month.

However, Singapore’s Transport Minister S Eswaran said on Monday that flights between Singapore and China are “less than 10% of the number of flights pre-Covid” – which is about 1.5% of total flights at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Overall, weekly passenger and flight traffic at Changi Airport has returned to 80% of pre-pandemic levels, he said.

“Singapore and Chinese airlines have applied to operate more flights between the two countries,” Eswaran said, adding that the government is taking a “careful and specific” approach to restoring air connectivity with China.

Currently, more than 60% of travelers arriving from China are Singapore citizens, permanent residents or long-term passport holders, Eswaran said.

“China’s opening up to the world is great news and something we look forward to,” Ong said, adding that the government will carefully adjust travel volume “at least until the wave of infection has clearly subsided in China.”

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