Singapore May Welcome Tourists to Revive Virus-Hit Air Hub

Singapore could consider opening its borders to tourists in an effort to attract more traffic into its once-bustling airport.

The city state could unilaterally allow passengers from certain countries or regions that have kept virus cases at similar or lower levels than Singapore, Ong Ye Kung, the newly appointed transport minister, said Friday in a speech to his staff, without naming any nations. A 14-day quarantine is a “major deterrent” to travelers and the country may have to consider replacing it with a rigorous testing regime, he said.

“Health and economic considerations are not at odds – we will find ways to revive our air hub and keep Singapore safe,” Ong said. The country’s airport has been “almost totally incapacitated,” with only about 150 aircraft movements a day compared with over 1,000 previously. There are no domestic flights for Changi Airport to serve.

The Southeast Asian nation has been hard hit by the pandemic, given its tourism industry largely relies on international travelers to keep its shops and attractions humming. It welcomed just 3,800 visitors in the second quarter, the least on record, and its economy is heading for the worst contraction since independence.

Changi Airport closed two of its four terminals and construction of a fifth terminal has been halted for at least two years as the outbreak is set to change the way people travel. Ong signaled any new travel arrangements could be a way to boost passenger numbers at the airport to about 40% of pre-Covid levels.

“Our challenge is to restore passenger volume, while keeping virus transmission under control,” he said.

Keep Borders Open

The city-state is expecting new virus cases to fall now that it has cleared its heavily-impacted migrant worker dormitories of the virus.

Already, Singapore has inked arrangements with China and Malaysia to allow business and official travelers, and Ong said such reciprocal green lanes could be proliferated. The Southeast Asian nation said this week it is working toward such an arrangement with Japan as early as September.

Ong, who was most recently education minister, had kept schools in the city-state open throughout the pandemic, except during a two-month partial lockdown.

“To survive, we have to keep our borders open,” Ong said. “To thrive, we have to connect to the world. To prosper, we have to be a hub of the global economy.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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