SINGAPORE – Singapore Treasury Secretary Lawrence Wong said “open and free” air travel in Asia remains unlikely in the short term as parts of the region struggle with spikes in Covid-19 infections.
“I’m a little less confident about the prospects for air travel,” said Wong Martin Soong at the CNBC Evolve Virtual Global Summit.
“The region is still facing rolling waves of infection and vaccination rates for many countries in the region are still not high enough. So I don’t think we will see open and free travel in the region in particular. “Soon,” said the minister, who also heads Singapore’s coronavirus task force.
Singapore is a Southeast Asian city-state with no domestic air travel market. International travel suddenly stalled last year due to the pandemic, and that hit Singapore’s aviation and tourism sectors – two key drivers of economic growth.
Wong said the Singapore government continues to speak to its counterparts in the region about establishing “safer travel routes”. He did not name the places where Singapore is being discussed.
“Maybe we have some travel precautions among the countries with low and stable infections. There may be some benefits for vaccinated travelers in terms of shorter quarantine times, ”the minister said.
“But for the most part… none of this will match what we had before Covid. So I’m afraid that air travel will take some time to recover, ”added Wong.
Asia, where the coronavirus was first detected, has seen an increase in infections in recent months. Places that range from developing countries – like India and Nepal – to more developed economies like Japan and Taiwan have seen a resurgence in cases.
Singapore also saw a renewed surge in cases last month after previous successes in containing the outbreak – which led the government to tighten social distancing measures.
Wong said these measures have worked and the country may gradually relax restrictions. But he warned that the situation could be unpredictable.
“You know, with this virus, you can never tell what will happen in the next few days because… there will always be surprises. It’s a very tricky virus. Every time you think you have it under control, it emerges in a new direction, “said Wong.
The minister reiterated the government’s goal to have at least 50% of the population fully vaccinated by August.
Singapore seems on track to achieve this goal. Around 2.7 million people – or 47% of the country’s population – received at least the first dose of the Covid vaccine on Monday, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Health.
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