By Gurdip Singh
Singapore, Mar 24 (PTI) Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday said the affluent city state will ease up cross-border travel substantially from April 1 as the Omicron situation is now well under control and made the use of face masks optional for individuals when outdoors from March 29.
Testing and quarantine requirements for travellers will be drastically streamlined, Lee said, noting that a simplified Vaccinated Travel Framework will let Singaporeans travel abroad almost like before COVID-19 .
Such a framework will also lift most restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors entering Singapore as a decisive step forward towards living with COVID-19.
"This will reconnect Singapore with the world. It will give a much-needed boost to businesses, particularly the tourism sector, and help Singapore reclaim its position as a business and aviation hub, Channel News Asia quoted Lee as saying in a televised address to the nation.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said borders will be reopened to all fully vaccinated travellers, removing all existing vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) and unilateral opening arrangements from April 1.
But while the domestic and cross-border changes represent a major step towards living with COVID-19, the Prime Minister said they stop short of a complete opening up .
We remain watchful because COVID-19 may yet bring further surprises.
With that, Lee urged Singaporeans to take the latest easing in COVID-19 measures in the right spirit .
Resume more normal lives, enjoy larger gatherings of family and friends, go outdoors without masks, or reunite with loved ones abroad. But do not throw all caution to the wind, he said.
Lee called on everyone to continue playing their part by complying with the revised safety protocols.
If you feel ill, test yourself. If you test positive, isolate yourself at home. If you test negative, and decide to go out, please wear a mask to protect others, even outdoors, just in case, he said.
Let us all continue to exercise personal and social responsibility, he added.
That way, even when new problems arise, we stand a much better chance of keeping things under control and staying on the path to a new normal.
The authority has also raised the size of group gatherings from five to 10 people and make face mask-wearing outdoors optional from Tuesday, he said.
Other changes to the country's safe management measures include allowing up to 75 per cent of employees who can work from home to return to their workplace, and raising the capacity limit for larger events to 75 per cent.
It will remain mandatory for people to wear a mask indoors, although donning one outdoors will be optional as the risk of outdoor transmission is significantly lower , said Lee.
Safe distancing requirements keeping a 1m distance between groups where masks are off will remain in place for now to minimise transmission in mask-off settings.
Separately, the Ministry of Health is encouraging those aged 80 and above, living in aged care facilities, or who are medically vulnerable, to get a second COVID-19 booster dose.
They will be able to do this about five months after their first booster dose.
"This will help ensure that these at-risk groups remain highly protected as we resume normal activities," the ministry said in a press release.
Those who are at increased risk of severe disease due to significant medical risk factors, including persons with chronic diseases of the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and other organ systems, are considered "medically vulnerable".
Such at-risk groups are "strongly encouraged to go for the second booster to protect themselves," the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Singapore reported 8,940 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, comprising 191 imported ones.
There were six fatalities, taking the death toll from coronavirus complications to 1,220.
Singapore has recorded 1,044,661 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.