Singapore is planning to start talks on air travel bubbles with countries that have managed the Covid-19 pandemic well. The initiative, announced in Parliament earlier this week, represents another push to reopen the nation’s borders, resume general travel on a limited basis, and revive its decimated air hub. The statistics behind the imperative are dire indeed. Compared with the time before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Changi Airport is serving a woeful 1.5 per cent of the usual passenger volume and 6 per cent of the usual number of passenger flights. Singapore now has direct flights to only 49 cities in the world, compared with 160 earlier. It has also dropped from being the seventh busiest airport in the world for international passenger traffic to the 58th. Singapore Airlines might not still exist today without the recent major recapitalisation exercise and, even so, it faces immense challenges.
Covid-19 has magnified the vulnerabilities of the aviation sector in Singapore, a thriving global city which is, however, bereft of domestic air travel. The status quo simply is not sustainable. Hence the need for bold and innovative steps which reveal that Singapore could be in the vanguard of the reopening of global air travel. To that end, tourists and other travellers who come in under a proposed arrangement would be tested for the coronavirus, but would not have to be quarantined or follow a fixed itinerary. Since testing is the key to unlocking air travel, a dedicated Covid-19 testing laboratory would be set up at Changi Airport in the next few months.