Sinovac Vaccine Status Won’t Stop Singapore Opening to Travel
(Bloomberg) -- Singapore’s health minister dispelled concerns that a decision to not yet officially recognize Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s vaccine would hamper quarantine-free travel plans, particularly with Hong Kong, saying that reciprocity between two places is more relevant in efforts to open up borders.
“That is really not the issue when it comes to opening up travel,” Ong Ye Kung said in response to a question on whether Sinovac’s status would hinder Singapore’s travel talks. The country has approved vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., but Sinovac’s shot isn’t part of the national vaccination program, so people inoculated with it don’t count in the government’s official tally.
Singapore may consider including Sinovac in its vaccine tally and this is “more of an administrative decision,” Ong said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Friday.
He also said the government was waiting for the likes of China and New Zealand to open after Singapore allowed travelers from those places to enter quarantine-free. Meanwhile, it is monitoring the situation in the U.S. and Europe before reciprocating and allowing travelers from those parts of the world, he said.
“It requires two-way reciprocity for air travel to happen again, and I hope that we are not too far from those scenarios materializing,” he said.
Singapore and Hong Kong are still trying to revive an agreement to allow quarantine-free travel between the two Asian financial hubs, which could be used as a model to open to more parts of the world, Ong said.
With very low Covid-19 case counts, or none at all on many days, the cities are well positioned to open their borders again, he said, a positive sign for the on-again, off-again travel plan initially scheduled for last November but subsequently shelved.
“That gives us common ground to talk again about restarting the air travel bubble,” Ong said. “I try to not call it bubble as it connotes something very fragile and can easily burst -- I try to describe it as air travel corridor now, but the idea is the same.”
As Singapore’s vaccination campaign gathers pace, the government’s stance has shifted toward learning to live with the virus rather than pursuing a so-called Covid-Zero approach of eliminating it altogether.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said this week her government needs to assess Singapore’s new Covid strategy as the two sides try to revive the travel arrangement, which was first shelved due to an outbreak in Hong Kong and then put on hold again this year following a Covid flareup in Singapore.
“We hope Singapore-Hong Kong can materialize, can become a way forward and be a model for reference, but really we need to open up to more parts of the world,” Ong said.
Covid deaths globally topped 4 million this week. Singapore has confirmed a total of 36 deaths and about 63,000 cases, while Hong Kong has reported 212 deaths and 11,948 infections overall.
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