Singapore Ramps Up Border Testing to Counter Omicron Threat


SINGAPORE is stepping up Covid testing at its border to stave off the new omicron variant that has been discovered in many countries around the world.

The city-state, which has been establishing so-called vaccinated travel lanes to allow entry for fully-inoculated people, will also freeze all new arrangements of this kind as “it’s the prudent thing to do for now,” officials said during a briefing on Tuesday. Any further relaxation on social-distancing measures will also be halted, they said, just as rules were recently eased to allow five people to gather.

“While we have not detected this new variant among local cases yet, it is only a matter of time before it will arrive in Singapore,” Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs a virus taskforce, said. “As more data becomes available in the coming weeks, we must be prepared to further adjust our measures if necessary to ensure that the situation remains under control before we continue on our reopening journey.”

Here are details of the measures Singapore will undertake:

  • From Dec. 3, all air travelers entering or transiting through Singapore must take a Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, test on arrival
  • People entering via air vaccinated travel lanes will have to take additional supervised rapid Covid tests on day three and seven after arrival at test centers
  • Enhanced testing measures for inbound travelers will last initially for a month
  • Airport and border frontline workers in contact with travelers from regions affected by the omicron variant will have to take weekly PCR tests
  • Travelers from seven African states who entered Singapore between Nov. 12-27 will have to take one-time PCR tests
  • Confirmed or suspected omicron infected patients will be required to quarantine for 10 days in government facilities

The measures come at a time when nations around the world are at odds over how to best protect themselves against a variant for which there is little information and that has now been found in locations from the U.K. to Spain, Canada and Australia.

For Singapore, a small city-state that’s maintained tough restrictions since early in the pandemic, omicron has raised fears among the population that the government may have to reconsider its approach to border reopenings at a time when general travel is just getting going.

Countries including Japan and Israel have already moved to restrict the entry of foreigners due to the variant. The Southeast Asian nation, which is highly exposed to global trade winds and geopolitics, has been shifting away from a Covid-Zero approach to living with the virus.

With 85% of its population fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and new infections stabilized, Singapore recently allowed people from different households to dine together at restaurants and gather socially otherwise. It had also gradually extended its vaccinated travel lane program to more countries before delaying those with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as a precaution amid concern about omicron.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who also co-chairs the virus taskforce, said the government will assess the risk of imported infections from a particular country before deciding whether Singapore should suspend the VTL with that country.

“As a highly vaccinated population with a strong booster program currently in progress, our community would have some protection against this new variant,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Tuesday. It said it’s looking out for more information on the omicron variant, such as its transmissibility, incubation period and infectious duration, severity of illness, and the efficacy of existing vaccines.

Officials reiterated on Tuesday that vaccinations can still protect people against severe infections and death, as well as cut transmissions in the community.