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Ong Ye Kung: We ‘can’t wait around for a vaccine’ to revive Singapore’s aviation industry

"We’ve got to start doing something. Active steps," said the Transport Minister

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Singapore—In an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Monday (Oct 12), Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung underlined the importance of creating travel bubbles with ‘safe countries’ to revive the badly-hit aviation sector.

And while he admitted that the development of a vaccine is vital in restoring travel to pre-Covid levels, questions remain as to when a vaccine will be made available and how effective it will be.

“The bottom line is this,” he said. “We can’t wait around for a vaccine. The aviation industry, critical to so many economies, particularly a small one like Singapore where you need all these connections in order to be economically viable, can’t wait around for a vaccine.

We’ve got to start doing something. Active steps.

And the fact is that we can open up safely because there are countries, regions, that kept the epidemic under control, and testing is no longer a constraint.”

Mr Ong discussed the current situation facing the aviation sector, saying that while ‘green lanes’ keep essential businesses going, these are quite restrictive, as permission is needed to be obtained for air travel, as well as a rigorous testing protocol, and only have limited itineraries.

These green lanes would “in no way” revive the aviation sector, the Transport Minister added.

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But what is needed now are travel bubbles with safe countries and regions, where general travel can happen.

“We need to change the defaults” for traveling, he said, because at present, flying is very limited. With the default changed for travel between safe countries, people no longer need to ask for permission to go from one country to another.

However, it would still mean observing a post-arrival protocol, with travellers tested when they arrive at their destination countries. Scientists are looking at travellers being tested for Covid-19 on the third, fifth or eleventh day after they arrive.

For Singapore, Mr Ong added, “when our scientists look at 10 numbers, eleventh-day testing seems to be very effective, so we need to be ready to put into place such protocol.”

But the most important thing, he emphasized, is for countries that have managed to control the spread of the coronavirus, to come together and form travel bubbles.

When asked for his views on a Covid-19 vaccine, he acknowledged that the availability of a safe and effective global vaccine would be a “turning point” in reviving global travel, but this may take some time.

For now, he added, steps to restore travel can safely be taken already. Earlier in the year, Singapore could only do 2,000 Covid-19 tests each day, and now, the country is on track to be able to do 40,000 tests daily.

“We have the tools to revive air travel, at least among safe countries and regions,” Mr Ong said.

On Monday (Oct 12), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced that applications for the reciprocal green lane (RGL) for essential business and official travel between Singapore and Indonesia will start on Oct 26, with travel beginning soon after.

Indonesian citizens and Singapore citizens and residents are eligible for the cross-border travel between the two countries.

However, members of the online community have expressed their concern about the plan due to the possibility of an increase in Covid-19 imported cases in Singapore. —/TISG

Read also: Netizens concerned over Singapore-Indonesia reciprocal green lane

Netizens concerned over Singapore-Indonesia reciprocal green lane

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