Singapore will end quarantine for vaccinated travellers from April 1, the latest country to ease restrictions in a region that has lagged behind the rest of the world in reopening borders.
The city-state will “drastically streamline” requirements for vaccinated arrivals as well as dropping a requirement to wear masks outdoors, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech on Thursday.
A limit on group gatherings will also be increased to 10 people, up from five, while most people working from home will be asked to return to the office, Lee said.
The changes, which also include the lifting of a ban on music performances, will take effect from March 29.
The Southeast Asian hub, which had allowed quarantine-free entry for arrivals from some countries under a system of Vaccinated Travel Lanes, is also weighing ending a requirement for pre-departure swab tests.
“Earlier, we were cautious because of uncertainty over Omicron’s impact,” Lee said in a televised speech. “Now the Omicron situation is well under control. Nearly all our cases our domestic, originating within the community. Arrivals from abroad constitute only a very small proportion of cases. We can therefore safety open up our borders.”
Jayant Menon, a visiting senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, described the announcement as welcome but overdue.
“The share of imported cases in total infection has been very small ever since Delta started spreading last year, sharply eroding the value of border controls,” Menon told Al Jazeera. “The system of Vaccinated Travel Lanes was creating a complex web of confusing arrangements, and the shift in focus from travel destinations to the travelers themselves is the right move.”
Trend towards reopening
Singapore’s announcement comes as a growing list of Asia-Pacific countries ease restrictions after holding onto border controls long after Europe and North America moved towards living with the virus. Passenger demand in the Asia-Pacific was down almost 67 percent in 2021 compared with 2019, but down just 39 percent in Europe over the same period.
On Monday, Indonesia lifted quarantine requirements for visitors to all parts of the country so long as they produce a negative PCR test.
Thailand lifted quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors on February 1.
South Korea and Malaysia earlier this month announced the end of quarantine for vaccinated arrivals from April 1.
Japan has allowed foreign residents, business travellers and students into the country since March 1, subject to up to seven days of quarantine, but continues to bar tourists.
China, the last major “zero COVID” holdout, has stuck to ultra-strict border controls that prevent most visitors from entry.
Hong Kong, which is suffering an exodus of foreign businesses and talent due to some of the world’s harshest pandemic rules, is set to reduce its mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from 14 days to seven days from April 1.