Singapore’s transport minister has played down any indication of a V-shaped recovery of the aviation industry this year, but notes that the first shoots of recovery are starting to form and this is something “worth working towards”. 

Furthermore, if governments cautiously open up to regions with low coronavirus infections — while tightening measures for areas with high infections rates — “we should see some safe opening of air travel” this year, said Ong Ye Kung. 

Jewel Changi Airport Control Tower

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The control tower of Singapore’s Changi Airport

He was speaking at a virtual conference on safe reopening of international borders, organised by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Business Advisory Council.

Ong’s comments come a week after Singapore and Hong Kong announced the relaunch of an air travel bubble arrangement between both cities, after a failed attempt in late 2020. 

Since then, Singapore has seen an uptick in local coronavirus cases, including a cluster at a hospital.

Ong told the forum that while the number of unlinked cases in the city-state were still low, recent developments have underscored the fragility of air travel bubble arrangements, as well as a broader reopening of borders. 

“[The] reopening of borders is something that requires a lot of work, a lot of discussions, and is an imperative in the immediate to medium-term,” says Ong. 

The minister notes that the “key objective” of an air travel bubble “is to replace quarantine with other risk mitigation measures, because quarantine kills the demand for travel”. 

Singapore, Ong says, has deployed four methods in managing the risk at the border to stop the import and spread of the virus within the country: testing, vaccinations, controlled local itineraries, as well as opening up its borders to other countries with low infections. 

On vaccines, Ong, who also made the point that “vaccines are working”, told the forum that Singapore is discussing with ICAO — as well as other countries and regions — on the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates. 

He stressed that the four measures “do not work in isolation”, and, if worked through properly, can replace quarantine. 

“The opening of our borders is ultimately about connecting our countries, our cities, our businesses and our people – ensuring that global cooperation and exchange continues. It is what humanity desires and instinctively seeks,” the minister says. 

Like countries around the world, Singapore has felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but is more acutely affected, given its smaller size and lack of domestic travel market.