Singapore delays vaccinated travel lane launch with UAE owing to Omicron variant

The country has also delayed plans to allow vaccinated tourists entry from Saudi Arabia and Qatar

Singapore has delayed the launch of its vaccinate travel corridor with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar due to the new Omicron variant. Photo: Unsplash/ Meric Dagli
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Travellers from the UAE hoping to fly to Singapore next week when the Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme was due to launch will have to wait a little longer to take their trip.

Singapore has delayed the launch of its Vaccinated Travel Lanes with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar amid concerns about the new Omicron variant.

The scheme, which will allow vaccinated tourists to visit, was scheduled to begin on December 6, with applications to travel opening on November 29. Plans have now been delayed "until further notice", Singapore's Health Ministry said on Sunday.

The move has been billed as “a precautionary measure to reduce the risks of importation and spread" by Singapore authorities.

The ministry cited the Gulf countries' proximity to southern African countries as the main reason for the delay in reopening travel.

"We will be deferring the commencement of the VTLs [Vaccinated Travel Lanes] for Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE until further notice. This is in view of their proximity as transport nodes to the affected countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe," said a statement from the Ministry of Health.

More details on when travel might reopen between the countries will be provided at a later date.

It comes as Singapore's government begins a review of border measures in light of the new Covid-19 variant. "As the global situation evolves, we will continue to adjust our border measures in tandem with our road map to becoming a Covid-19 resilient nation," the statement said.

"Singapore has not detected any cases of this [Omicron] variant to date."

Etihad Airways postpones launch of VTL flights to Singapore

From Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways had announced plans to operate Vaccinated Travel Lane flights to Singapore from Tuesday, December 7. This will no longer happen, although the airline will continue to fly to Singapore for eligible travellers.

"As a precautionary measure to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant to Singapore, the Singapore authorities will be deferring the opening of the Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) for the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia until further notice. Unfortunately this means that we will be unable to operate our VTL service from 7 December as planned," said Etihad on its website.

Emirates flies daily to Singapore from Dubai. A spokesperson for Emirates confirmed to The National that the postponement of the Vaccinated Travel Lane plan would not have an impact on flight operations.

Link bridge to a terminal at Changi International Airport in Singapore. The country has paused reopening to vaccinated tourists from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. AFP

Singapore implemented some of the toughest lockdown measures during the Covid-19 pandemic in place with social restrictions, mandatory masks and incoming travel off-limits for most foreigners.

The country noted a record high of 5,324 new cases on October 27, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, but case numbers have dropped in recent weeks with 747 reported cases on Sunday, the lowest number communicated since September.

Several countries around the world have imposed new travel restrictions and rules as more cases of the Omicron variant have been reported around the world.

Morocco has banned all commercial flights for at least a two-week period, while Israel has sealed its recently reopened borders to foreigners.

The UK has reintroduced its red list for travel, adding 10 countries to the list from where people will have to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine. All travellers flying to the UK now also need to take a PCR test on or before day two of arriving and self-isolate until a negative Covid-19 result has been received.

Updated: November 29, 2021, 11:47 AM