Omicron Covid variant: Singapore defers VTL arrangement with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE over Omicron concern

PTI | | Updated on: Nov 29, 2021
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Singapore had on Sunday reported a two-month low of 747 new coronavirus infections

Singapore has deferred quarantine free-vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as a “precautionary move” to reduce the risk of importation and spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

Singapore had on Sunday reported a two-month low of 747 new coronavirus infections.

VTLs for these three countries, originally scheduled to launch from December 6, will now be deferred “until further notice”, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Sunday night.

“This is in view of their proximity as transport nodes to the affected countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe,” the Channel News Asia reported, citing a MOH a news release.

“We will provide more details on the commencement of these VTLs at a later date,” the release said.

It was previously announced that VTL applications for short-term visitors and long-term pass holders will open on Monday.

The Omicron variant, first discovered in South Africa, was designated by the World Health Organization as a “variant of concern” on Friday.

No cases of this variant have been detected in Singapore so far, the MOH said.

Travel restrictions

Singapore has restricted entry to travelers with recent travel history to seven African countries Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore is tracking the variant "very closely".

"We are not sure yet, but we may well be forced to take a few steps back, before we can take more steps forward," he said.

"But despite all this, I am confident that we will find our way to living with the virus, and safely resume all the things we love to do. We are making all this effort because we want to get there safely, suffering as few casualties along the way as possible." The MOH said in a release on Friday, "Scientists around the world are presently working to determine the characteristics of the new Omicron variant, such as whether it is more transmissible than the Delta variant, and if it is more likely to lead to severe illnesses." Separately, thousands of people were expected to travel between Singapore and Malaysia as both countries launch VTL air and land transportation on Monday.

Malaysia Prime Minister Ismail Sabri will witness the VTL launch with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on Sunday, calling the launch a “significant step towards the restoration of bilateral and regional connectivity”.

Both the Prime Ministers will witness the VTL at the Causeway, which links Singapore to southern Peninsular Malaysia.

This will also be the first official visit by a Malaysian prime minister to Singapore in more than three years. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had visited the country in November 2018.

Meanwhile, Singapore reported 747 new Covid-19 cases, the first time since September 20 that the country's daily caseload dipped below 1,000.

The MOH also reported 11 deaths linked to the virus as of Sunday afternoon. This brings Singapore's death toll due to coronavirus to 701.

Among the new cases, 719 infections were from the community, 25 cases from migrant workers' dormitories and three cases of travellers who arrived here from abroad.

As of Sunday, Singapore has reported 2,62,383 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

Published on November 29, 2021

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