Published: 17:37, February 12, 2023 | Updated: 17:37, February 12, 2023
S'pore to lift all pandemic limits for full return to normalcy
By Prime Sarmiento in Hong Kong

Visitors gather in front of the Marina Bay Sands hotel and resorts building in Singapore on July 27, 2022. (PHOTO / AFP)

Singapore’s lifting of all border restrictions over the pandemic is expected to speed up the city-state’s economic rebound, reinstating its status as one of the global hubs for travel and business, experts said.

Starting from Feb 13, Singapore will no longer require travelers to show proof of vaccination on arrival. Unvaccinated travelers will neither need to show proof of a negative pre-departure test nor buy travel insurance. Commuters are also no longer required to wear masks while taking public transport. 

The Singapore government announced the lifting of restrictions on Feb 9 for its full return to normal social and economic life. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said Singapore’s high vaccination rate among its 5.6 million population “is one of the key reasons why we could progressively restore normal lives, while maintaining one of the lowest mortality rates in the world”.

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Lawrence Low, director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore’s Business School, said that Singapore’s border management policies have always been “based on science and evidence”.

Even if Singapore has been relaxing COVID-19 measures since last year, “the latest lifting of all curbs will definitively reinforce the notion that Singapore is open to the world for business and travel”, Low said.

Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry said the 3.9 percent growth in the transportation and storage sector, which is part of the services industry, “was largely supported by the air transport segment, which saw robust growth on the back of a strong recovery in air passengers handled”

Radhika Rao, senior economist at the Singapore-based DBS Bank, said, “The rules that have been eased were the last leg measures, mainly unwinding mask-wearing in public transport and health facilities. With this Singapore has returned to normal endemic conditions, further boosting recovery prospects.” 

Rao said Singapore “had completely returned to business as usual” in 2022 as shown by its hosting several in-person events such as the Singapore Grand Prix in October. That was the first time that the Formula One motor race was held since 2019. The annual event was suspended in 2020 and 2021 owing to the pandemic.  

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Fazal Bahardeen, founder and CEO of the Singapore-based Muslim lifestyle and travel consultancy CrescentRating, has seen business picking up as Singapore gradually eased restrictions in the past few months. The city state is not only looking forward to the return of global travelers but also to the increasing interest in travel packages that are more environmentally-sustainable and  beneficial to local communities. Fazal said such awareness was developed at the height of the pandemic as more people had time to reflect on their travel preferences.           

Singapore is yet to announce its actual 2022 GDP growth rate. But the Ministry of Trade and Industry said in its advance estimates report in January that the economy grew by 3.8 percent last year. All key industries – manufacturing, services and construction – expanded in 2022. The ministry said the 3.9 percent growth in the transportation and storage sector, which is part of the services industry, “was largely supported by the air transport segment, which saw robust growth on the back of a strong recovery in air passengers handled”.

READ MORE: Singapore expects full tourism recovery by 2024

Apart from lifting all COVID-19 restrictions, Singapore is also among the countries which are expected to benefit from the optimization of COVID-19 rules in China.

A general view shows the skyline of the financial business district in Singapore on Oct 20, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

Syetarn Hansakul, analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit said Southeast Asian countries like Singapore will benefit from the rebound in China’s outbound tourists. She said the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in China will also facilitate the manufacturing industry in Southeast Asia thanks to “smoother regional supply chain activities”. 

“We expect that the end of supply chain disruption will reduce cost and logistical obstacles that disrupted the region’s production during 2020 to 2022,” Syetarn said.

Singapore started imposing border restrictions in January 2020 on the back of the pandemic. In September 2021, it opened up vaccinated travel lanes, allowing fully vaccinated travelers from lower-risk countries to enter Singapore without the need for quarantine. But it was only in April 2022 that Singapore allowed fully vaccinated tourists from all countries to come in under its Vaccinated Travel Framework.

READ MORE: Singapore's economy topped forecasts but new risks growing

On Feb 9, Singapore officials said that owing to the stable and improving global COVID-19 situation, and the low impact of imported cases on Singapore’s healthcare capacity, the remaining COVID-19 border measures will be lifted. 

Vijay Verghese, Hong Kong-based editor of online magazine Smart Travel Asia, said Singapore's “full reopening” will help it “pull further away from other Asian Tigers”. 

“The dropping of masks, insurance and vaccination certificates will enable a smoother movement of business travel in and out of the city and this will energize the economy as there is nothing better to seal the deal than a face-to-face meeting and a handshake,” Verghese said.