Singapore to open new lane for business travelers, house them in bubble

Topics Singapore | Coronavirus | Lockdown

Singapore’s small and open economy is largely dependent upon the tourist and service sectors for growth. (Bloomberg)
Singapore will start a new travel lane for “business, official and high economic value travelers” that will allow people to come to the city-state without quarantine for short-term stays and reside in a dedicated “bubble” facility near the airport.

The travel lane, announced by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday, builds on Singapore’s efforts to reopen its borders in a controlled manner. The Southeast Asian nation, which has largely beaten back the coronavirus, announced Monday that it will progress to the third and final phase of its national Covid-19 response strategy on Dec. 28.

Singapore’s small and open economy is largely dependent upon the tourist and service sectors for growth. To that end, it’s been trying to reopen its borders by establishing green lanes and special travel arrangements with countries where the virus is also under control, like New Zealand and Australia.

Authorities are also keen to position Singapore as a prime spot for meetings, events, conferences and exhibitions and the new dedicated “bubble” facility near Changi Airport will be a big part of that. Earlier this month it was revealed that the World Economic Forum has held preliminary talks with officials in Singapore about relocating its high-profile Davos annual meeting to the city-state.

Applications for the new travel lane will open next month. People from all countries can apply but must adhere to the travel lane’s strict health and testing protocols.

For the duration of their up to 14-day stay, visitors will be housed in a “bubble” within a dedicated facility, undergo testing upon arrival and on days three, five, seven and 11, and must observe all prevailing safe management measures. They will be able to conduct meetings with local visitors and with other segregated travel lane groups at the facility, however if they’re meeting with locals, travelers will need to remain behind floor-to-ceiling dividers.

Air-Tight Panels, Vending Machines
Singapore’s state investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte on Tuesday outlined the short-stay facility that will support such safe business exchanges. Called Connect@Changi, the initiative also involves The Ascott Ltd. and Sheares Healthcare Group, and will be located at the Singapore EXPO, about a five-minute drive from the airport.

“Ideally, you would like to have people free to move around, do what they want to do and spend where they want to,” but this is a “good alternative option” as we try to stamp out the virus, Temasek Senior Managing Director Alan Thompson said at a media briefing Tuesday. “This is an attempt to begin to open up and reinvigorate the air travel and hospitality sectors in Singapore.”

Connect@Changi will have more than 670 guestrooms and almost 170 meeting rooms that each can accommodate from four to 22 attendees. When fully constructed in mid-2021, the facility will include more than 1,300 guestrooms and about 340 meeting rooms.

The arrangement is primarily aimed at official and multinational business meetings, as well as medical consultations, private banking transactions and document signings or legal consultations. Its target audience is mainly short-term visitors who don’t intend to stay longer than a few days.

“Guests can meet their local counterparts or other guests from the region safely in specially designed meeting rooms outfitted with air-tight glass panels, reducing the risk of transmission,” Temasek said in a statement. “Entrances, exits and ventilation systems for both guests and Singapore-based visitors are separated” and there will be “a rigorous Covid-19 testing regime for guest travelers before and throughout their stay, as well as prior to departing the facility for their home countries.”

Meals will be delivered to pre-installed shelves outside guest rooms, and guests can also opt for additional food and beverage options via vending machines.

A Living Laboratory

Singapore had been developing the idea months before the World Economic Forum news, Chan said during a separate briefing Tuesday.

“We’re now in discussions with the World Economic Forum on logistical arrangements,” he said, adding that he didn’t think the Changi facility would be sufficient in terms of the number of meeting rooms required for such a large event.

Temasek also added that as a “living laboratory, Connect@Changi will feature an array of novel Covid-19 management strategies, such as wastewater testing for early detection, latest rapid point-of-care tests to complement established lab-based polymerase chain reaction tests, and automated contact tracing within the facility to enable rapid and precise identification of individuals.”

“If successful, these strategies can be deployed at existing facilities elsewhere, such as hotels, to strengthen and boost Singapore’s pandemic response,” the investment firm said.



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