Travel may only return to normal in 2 years, Lee says

pic by TMR FILE

SINGAPORE Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (picture) expects cross-border travel to remain restricted for at least two more years, despite positive progress made on the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Lee said it will take time before any vaccine can be rolled out to a significant portion of the population for it to have an impact in slowing down the spread of the disease. Until then, countries must take precautions and be prepared to deter any sudden rise in new cases.

“I don’t think we can just go back to the old days where we can easily travel within a few hours without any visa. We need agreements on what is safe — have travel corridors, green lanes and travel bubbles — and know how the other party do their testing and how we can adjust the rules when circumstances change, for example.

“I suppose there has to be a way for some kind of a pause until the situation stabilises again. These are all issues which need to be discussed,” Lee said in a conversation with Singapore Business Federation CEO Ho Meng Kit at the APEC CEO Dialogues Malaysia 2020 virtual event earlier yesterday.

Travel bubbles are emerging across Asia-Pacific economies, with the air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong expected to begin on Sunday. The arrangement will see one flight a day into each city with 200 passengers each way and subsequently increased to two flights a day into each city from Dec 7. Singapore is also keen to have an air travel bubble with Malaysia.

“Both sides must have confidence in one another and the situation has to be tightly controlled on both sides for this to happen. If cases go up, the local population will be very anxious to open up and we have to take this political reality into account.

“There are some risks and we will likely see some cases popping up, but we have to keep going and keep those cases under control. If we can do that, then we can move a little bit further,” Lee added.