S’pore praises Brunei for COVID-19 control, allows visitors from Sultanate, New Zealand

Azlan Othman & Hakim Hayat

With Singapore allowing travellers from Brunei and New Zealand to visit the country starting next month, the country’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung praised the two countries for controlling the COVID-19 virus “very well” adding the move was unilateral.

The minister said the move aims to strike a balance between controlling the spread of the virus and reviving air travel, a key driver of the trade-and tourism-reliant economy.

“I think this is a small cautious step to start to re-open aviation and resuscitate Changi Airport,” he told reporters. “Remember, as a small open economy, to survive we’ve got to keep our borders open.

“To earn a living, (we) got to have connections with the world and to thrive and to prosper, we must be an aviation hub,” news agencies reported.

Travellers from Brunei Darussalam and New Zealand will be subject to a COVID-19 test upon arrival, in-lieu of a Stay-Home Notice (SHN).

Singapore has also reduced the SHN duration from 14 days to seven for travellers from low risk countries/regions, Singapore’s Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force Lawrence Wong said during a press conference on Friday that the arrangements with Brunei and New Zealand are not reciprocal, but discussions with both countries are ongoing.

File photo shows a passenger checking-in at the automated booth at the international departure area of Changi International Airport in Singapore. PHOTO: AFP

“When we are ready with the reciprocal green lane arrangements with these two countries, we will announce the details,” he told the Singapore media. “Specific to these two countries, we are making a move based on the evidence, based on our assessment of risk,” he added.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health added, since March 21, Singapore implemented a 14-day SHN on all incoming travellers (ie Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders to minimise the risk of importation leading to community spread in the country.

Since June 18, they have also allowed travellers from Australia (excluding Victoria State), Brunei Darussalam, Macao, Mainland China, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam to serve their 14-day SHN at their own place of residence. A testing regime before the end of SHN has also been put in place for all incoming travellers.

Singapore monitored the situation and assessed that there are several countries/regions where the virus situation is well under control and the risk of importation is low. They will therefore update the border measures accordingly. Changes will be with effect from September 1, 2020, 0000 hours, for all travellers entering or departing Singapore.

Among these low-risk countries, Singapore will start by lifting current border restrictions to allow the entry of visitors from Brunei Darussalam and New Zealand into Singapore.

Travellers entering Singapore and who have remained in either Brunei Darussalam or New Zealand in the last consecutive 14 days prior to their entry will not be required to serve a SHN. Instead, they will undergo a COVID-19 test upon arrival at the airport and only be allowed to go about their activities in Singapore after receiving a negative test result.

Prior to travelling to Singapore, visitors from Brunei Darussalam and New Zealand will need to apply for an Air Travel Pass (ATP) between seven and 30 days before their intended date of entry into Singapore. They will be responsible for their medical bills should they require medical treatment for COVID-19 while in Singapore.

Despite several offers from countries to ease travel movement between their countries and Brunei Darussalam as the Sultanate reports no new community spread for over than 100 days, Brunei’s senior government officials indicated during recent press conferences that the matter is still being studied and Brunei will not open its borders for international travellers very soon, although this stance is still unclear if it has changed with the new developments.

On June 14, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah said that Brunei is not ready to open borders with neighbouring countries any time soon as there were no negotiations taking place at the time.

On June 20, Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof indicated that Singapore and the People’s Republic of China offered limited and restricted travel for their citizens into the country, specifically for government officials and businessmen.

Following the official receipt of offers, the Minister of Foreign Affairs II said that they began internal discussions looking at the criteria proposed and then to consider whether Brunei can go along with the proposals or if we can make counter proposals.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs II during a press conference on June 20 revealed that Singapore and China have officially offered to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through its government agencies, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Prime Minister’s Office will consider the offers in terms of it appropriateness, the country’s preparation, as well as the preparations of the other countries.

It was also previously reported that the Malaysian Government will grant Brunei citizens and residents entry into Malaysia without mandatory COVID-19 screening and 14-day quarantine, on the basis that the terms are reciprocal.