Why isn’t Singapore singing China out

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Singapore Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told Parliament on Monday that the government is not imposing new restrictions on travelers from China as limited flight capacity, along with current border policies, has led to very few imported cases – and even fewer severe cases – come from China. .

Ong said the government is “very aware” that some Singaporeans are concerned that an influx of visitors from China could lead to an increase in infections.

The new Covid regulations are forcing some Chinese travelers to go with their Plan B destinations

But he said the travel numbers between Singapore and China are “very low” – with less than 1,000 people arriving from China every day.

“To date, we operate 38 weekly flights from China to Singapore, compared to around 400 flights pre-Covid,” he said.

Ong acknowledged that a new, more dangerous variant could emerge from China as the virus spreads through its population of 1.4 billion, but said this has not materialized so far.

With widespread vaccine coverage, we can treat Covid-19 as an endemic disease.

But Ye Kung

Minister of Health in Singapore

Ong said Singapore is monitoring this through GISAID, a non-profit organization he said receives viral sequence data from authorities in major Chinese cities and provinces, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Sichuan, which is processed. in the GISAID office in Singapore.

Although there are “gaps in the data,” Ong said, “So far, the data shows that the epidemic in China is driven by well-known variants that have been circulating in other regions of the world” – namely BA.5.2 and BF.7.

The current regulations are effective

So far, more than a dozen countries have announced new rules for visitors from China. But Ong said Singapore did not, as it already has effective border measures.

“Many countries have removed all their border measures,” he said. “Singapore… is keeping relevant measures just because we anticipated these risks.”

Singapore’s Minister of Health, Ong Ye Kung, will attend a meeting at the G-20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on October 27, 2022.

Sonny Tumbelaka | Afp | Getty Images

He said that while “many Singaporeans have forgotten about it,” all travelers must be fully vaccinated or test negative for Covid before entering, which is the only requirement announced by the Spain recently for travelers from China.

While South Korea has reported that up to 80% of imported cases come from China, Ong said that in December, less than 5% of imported cases were in Singapore – about 200 people – from China, and “ASEAN countries accounted for more than 50%.”

In the same month, seven imported cases became seriously ill, and only one was from China, he said.

“Most Singaporeans were returning from these countries and regions,” he said. “These are not large numbers, so the impact on our health care system was minimal.”

The ‘biggest concern’ in Singapore

The government’s “biggest concern” is the emergence of a new, more dangerous variant that could bypass vaccine protection – a “nightmare variant” [that] we can knock us back to almost square one,” said Ong.

If that happens, “We may have to reinstate measures such as strict border controls, quarantine for travelers, social restrictions including limiting group sizes, until a new and effective vaccine is developed.”

To monitor this, Singapore will remain plugged into the “global monitoring system,” he said.

Ong said the other main concern is protecting Singapore’s healthcare system. He said infections were the government’s main concern in the early stages of the pandemic, but since vaccines have been introduced, it is now focusing on serious infections.

He said 60% of those aged 18 and over were vaccinated at the end of 2022.

“In the last 30 days, the number of Covid-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit is in the low single digits,” he said. “Thus, with broad vaccine coverage, we can treat Covid-19 as an endemic disease.”

Why other rules might not work

Ong questioned the effectiveness of some travel rules imposed on Chinese travelers:

  1. PCR tests on arrival are “too late, because the travelers are already inside your borders,” and they are sensitive, which means they will yield “a large number of positive cases from countries that are suffering from or have just experienced a major wave,” because recovered travelers can shed dead viral particles for weeks.
  2. Aircraft wastewater tests depends on solid waste, which will be very useful as the flight time from China to Singapore is not that long.
  3. Pre-departure tests “can be useful… [to] reduced the number of imported diseases” but low travel volume between Singapore and China “limits the number of imported diseases even more.”

Ong said that if Singapore were to test all travelers coming from China, questions would arise about travelers from other regions which would add more infections and serious cases.

Ong called the Covid outbreak “the new normal,” saying “Today it’s China, tomorrow another region. “

Roslan Rahman | Afp | Getty Images

“Besides, by triggering [pre-departure tests] on travelers from one part of the world that has large numbers of infections, are we adding to the international precedent of testing travelers from countries with a wave of disease?”

Ong said: “How will other countries treat travelers from Singapore when we encounter another wave of disease?”

‘We don’t discriminate’

Increased flights with China

Singapore seems to have remained in the good graces of the Chinese government and its residents. Rein said Chinese travelers are now heading to Singapore, as well as Thailand, because “both countries welcome us. “

Singapore Airlines reinstated passenger service from Singapore to Beijing in late December. To start, the service will run only twice a month.

But flights between Singapore and China are “less than 10% of the pre-Covid number of flights” – accounting for about 1.5% of Singapore’s Changi Airport total flights, said Singapore’s Transport Minister S. Iswaran , Monday.

Overall, passenger traffic and weekly flights at Changi Airport have returned to 80% of pre-pandemic levels, he said.

“Singapore and Chinese airlines have applied to operate more flights between the two countries,” Iswaran said, adding that the government is taking a “careful and calibrated” approach to air links with China. – renewal

Currently, more than 60% of inbound travelers from China are Singaporean citizens, permanent residents or long-term permit holders, Iswaran said.

“It’s good news that China is opening up to the world and it’s something we’re looking forward to,” Ong said, adding that the government will carefully adjust the amount of travel “at least until the wave of the disease has clearly subsided in China.”

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