There has been some public concern about the high level of infections in China and the latest announcements to relax their border measures on 8 January 2023. Certain countries, namely India, Italy, Japan, and the US, have announced new testing requirements for all travellers from China. Others, including most EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and other Southeast Asian counties are monitoring the situation and have not announced any tightening of border measures on Chinese travellers.
Responding to this, Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) said that at this stage of the pandemic, the most important factor is the population immunity of its people.
“We cannot completely stop infections, and indeed the virus has continued to circulate in our communities, but we can ensure that infections result in few cases of hospitalisations and severe illnesses,” MOH said in a statement.
Singapore’s local epidemiological situation has remained stable after the XBB wave, with a seven-day moving average of local COVID-19 cases at 729, the number of COVID-19 related hospitalisations staying below 100, and COVID-19 related patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) remaining in the single digits.
Singapore has introduced paediatric and bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, to strengthen its already high community hybrid immunity. MOH has also bolstered the healthcare capacity with new COVID-19 Treatment Facilities and expanded Transitional Care Facilities.
“As 2022 comes to an end, we are in a stronger position to live with COVID-19, becoming more resilient with each COVID-19 wave,” MOH said.
Keeping a Close Watch on the Emergence of New Variants
MOH said that nevertheless, it is closely watching the global COVID-19 situation worldwide. It noted that caseloads have gone up in many countries, due to the uptick in international travel and onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Of particular concern to MOH is China, which is facing a large infection wave.
There are two specific concerns for this concern about China. First, the possible emergence of new and more dangerous variants. And the second concern is that travellers should not add significant burden to our hospitals.
Singapore has been working with our international partners, including GISAID, which maintains a pathogen genomics database, to monitor the variants circulating globally. We also conduct our own genomic surveillance on local and imported cases. So far, based on the sequencing results submitted by the Centres for Disease Control of various Chinese cities, the strains circulating in China are known ones, and no new variants with greater transmissibility or severity than previously identified subvariants have been detected.
At present, Singapore’s airport sees between 700 and 1,000 arrivals from China daily, or about 1% to 1.5% of total daily arrivals by air. The majority comprise residents and long-term pass holders returning to Singapore. On a weekly basis, it has detected between 40 and 80 COVID-19 cases from among these travellers. All of them exhibited mild symptoms, except one returning Singaporean who had become severely ill after recent travel to China.
MOH said, “As air travel with China is progressively restored, we will take a cautious approach towards increasing seat capacity, taking into account the overall public health assessment.”
Reviewing Border Measures
While many countries had previously fully lifted public health-related border measures, Singapore did not do so and has maintained some measures. Non-fully vaccinated travellers entering Singapore continue to require a pre-departure test (PDT) within two days before departure. Non-fully vaccinated Short-Term Visitors (STVs) are also required to obtain travel insurance with a minimum coverage of S$30,000 for COVID-related medical expenses.
All air and sea travellers are required to submit a health declaration upon arrival. These measures reduce the risk of having severely ill imported cases, which can take up Singapoe’s healthcare capacity. At this juncture, MOH intends to continue to maintain these prevailing vaccination requirements and border measures for non-fully vaccinated travellers.
MOH said that they are watching the situation closely, including both upstream developments and the loading on Singapore’s healthcare system.
“We stand ready to reinstate border health measures for selected countries if warranted by the public health situation,” it said.