ARTs instead of PCR tests for VTL travellers, a maximum SHN of seven days, the cessation of hotel-based quarantine and no more entry approvals for long-term passholders. Here’s what travel will look like, starting 22 February 2022.
Back in September 2021, Singapore reopened its borders for quarantine-free travel for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While the initial list of countries was small (just Germany and Brunei, with only the former waiving quarantine for Singapore residents) it was a milestone in the slow, arduous return to ‘normal’.
Fast forward to today, and we’re about to take another big step. From 22 February 2022, Singapore will be removing many more barriers to travel by replacing on-arrival PCR tests with cheaper, faster ARTs for VTL travellers, capping the maximum SHN duration at seven days, ending mandatory hotel-based quarantine, and scrapping entry approvals for long-term passholders. There will also be a restoration of VTL quotas and the launch of a VTL (sea) arrangement from Batam/Bintan to Singapore.
These are indeed exciting times for travellers, so let’s start looking at the changes in detail.
(1) ARTs replace PCR tests for VTL and Category I travellers
The big news for anyone looking to do a VTL trip in the upcoming months is that the testing regime on return to Singapore will become much simpler and cheaper.
From 22 February 2022, arriving passengers from VTL (or Category I) countries will simply take a supervised ART at a QTC/CTC located around Singapore, within 24 hours of arrival. They must isolate until a negative result is received, so it’s advisable to get this done as soon as possible.
These tests will cost S$15 per person, a S$110 saving compared to the current requirement of a PCR test on arrival at Changi Airport. That’s not to mention the time saved, as ART results are ready in less than 15 minutes, compared to six to eight hours for PCR tests.
(2) No more Day 2-7 swabs for arriving VTL travellers
In light of the Omicron variant, VTL travellers were required to do an ‘enhanced testing regime’ after arrival in Singapore, with self-administered ART swabs on Days 2 to 7 before leaving their home or hotel.
This will no longer be necessary from 22 February 2022, although you may still wish to do so out of an abundance of caution.
(3) The maximum SHN anyone will serve is now 7 days; mandatory hotel quarantine eliminated
From 22 February 2022, Singapore will streamline its border risk classification categories by combining the existing Category II, III and IV into one General Travel category. This will be further subdivided by VTL and non-VTL, as shown below:
|Category||SHN||Pre-departure Test||On-arrival Test|
|Category I||N/A||ART or PCR test within 2 days of departure to Singapore||Supervised ART within 24h|
|General Travel (VTL)||N/A|
|General Travel (Non-VTL)||7 days (home)||PCR at end of SHN|
|Restricted||7 days (hotel)||PCR test within 2 days of departure to Singapore||PCR on arrival|
PCR at end of SHN
The upshot is that the maximum SHN any traveller will do is now capped at 7 days, down from 10 days currently.
Moreover, since the Restricted category is empty at the moment, there is no more mandatory hotel quarantine. Travellers can still choose to serve their SHN at a hotel if they wish, but this will be entirely voluntary.
Even if you have no plans to travel overseas, the cessation of mandatory hotel quarantine is likely to result in more staycation options. In recent months, we’ve seen hotels like the InterContinental Robertson Quay and Courtyard Novena reopen to the public, when they had previously been serving SHN travellers exclusively since the start of the pandemic.
(4) No more VTP or Entry Approval
While this was never a concern for Singapore citizens or Permanent Residents, long-term pass holders (LTP holders) were required to apply for Vaccinated Travel Passes (VTP) when travelling to Singapore under the VTL scheme, or Entry Approval otherwise.
Even though VTPs were approved or rejected instantly and did not require employer intervention, this added a further layer of uncertainty to proceedings.
But this will cease to be a concern from 22 February 2022, where all LTP holders (except work permit holders) will be able to enter Singapore without prior approval once more, just like pre-COVID days.
(5) Relevant travel history period cut to 7 days
When deciding which SHN and testing requirements apply to incoming travellers, Singapore currently looks at their 14-day travel history, applying the strictest category applicable. For example, if a traveller had been in Germany (Category II) and Austria (Category III) in the past 14 days, Category III rules would apply.
From 22 February 2022, the relevant travel history period will be cut to seven days. This also implies that so long as an individual’s seven–day travel history consists exclusively of Singapore, Category I or VTL countries, he or she can travel to Singapore on a VTL flight.
In other words, it’s easier to combine a holiday across VTL and non-VTL countries. In the aforementioned example, this traveller could first go to Austria, spend some time there, before staying in Germany for seven days and returning to Singapore on a VTL flight.
(6) No more testing required for transit passengers
Transit passengers through Changi Airport are currently required to present a negative COVID-19 test, regardless of the requirements of their final destination. This was an inconvenience to travellers who were passing through Singapore en route to a country with no test requirement, such as an Australian flying to Germany.
From 22 February 2022, the test requirement will be dropped, and transit via Singapore will have no impact on the tests one is required to do.
With Singapore’s move to combine Category II, III and IV into a single category with harmonised treatment, all transit passengers will be able to make full use of the transit area facilities once more.
(7) VTL quotas restored
If you’ve had issues booking a VTL flight recently, that’s probably because Singapore cut the VTL quota to 50% of capacity in light of Omicron.
That move will be reversed with immediate effect for the VTL (air) arrangement, and from 22 February 2022 for the VTL (land) arrangement with Malaysia. The VTL quota will be lifted to 15,000 per day by 4 March 2022. With any luck, this will mean lower ticket prices, and more choice of schedules.
(8) Hello, VTL (sea)
Travellers who miss Batam and Bintan will now be able to visit and return quarantine-free, thanks to the launch of the VTL (sea) arrangement.
This is conceptually similar to entering Singapore via air, with travellers required to take a PCR or professionally administered ART within two days before departure for Singapore, as well as a supervised ART within 24 hours of arrival. Indonesia had previously lifted the quarantine requirement for visitors from Singapore arriving via ferry to Batam and Bintan, although they do require the more expensive PCR test as a prerequisite, plus travel insurance with a minimum coverage of S$30,000 for COVID-19 related medical expenses.
The VTL (sea) arrangement will commence from 25 February 2022.
The end of VTLs?
VTLs were only ever intended to be a transitory measure, as Singapore learned to find its feet in a post-COVID world. All the complications regarding designated VTL flights and VTPs aren’t exactly conducive to travel, and these will be gradually stood down in favour of a simpler model based purely on one’s vaccination status. As Transport Minister S Iswaran has stated, “our ultimate goal is quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travellers”.
Therefore, my take on the situation is that by the middle of this year, the concept of a VTL flight will be no more, with the general rule being that vaccinated = no quarantine, not vaccinated = quarantine, and ARTs being the de facto method of testing (if at all) for all arriving passengers.
That will be a very welcome change indeed, making travel as close as possible to the pre-COVID days.
Singapore will be further relaxing its border measures from 22 February 2022, which promises greater convenience and lower costs for visitors or returning travellers. VTL travellers stand to save almost S$150 from the scrapping of Day 2-7 ART swabbing and the switch from PCR tests to supervised ARTs on arrival, while LTP holders need not worry about prior approvals any more.
There’s also good news for non-VTL travellers, with the maximum SHN duration cut to 7 days, and hotel quarantine abolished (at least until a country ends up in the Restricted list).
And who knows, by the end of the year, the entire concept of a VTL flight may be nothing more than a distant memory.