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Singapore-China ‘fast lane’ for essential travel between the two countries criticised

Waterfall in the Jewel Changi Airport, Singapure. Photo by: changiairport.com. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SINGAPORE, May 30, 2020, Bangkok Post. Some Singaporeans have reacted sharply to the government’s announcement of an agreement reached with China to launch a “fast lane” early in June to facilitate essential travel between the two countries, Bangkok Post reported.

A statement released by the Foreign Ministry late Friday said that, with effective coronavirus prevention and control measures in place, the arrangement would first be applied between Singapore and six Chinese provinces or municipalities directly under the central government — Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

It will be expanded gradually to other parts of China, it said, adding that the two governments also agreed to explore increasing air links between the two countries for the proposed “fast lane”.

Since Feb 1, Singapore has banned the entry or transit of Chinese nationals and anyone with a travel history to mainland China within 14 days prior to their arrival in Singapore.

The ban was subsequently extended to all short-term visitors from overseas as the Covid-19 pandemic worsened and spread to other countries outside China.

Following the announcement, the Facebook page of Channel News Asia, the English-language news website for Singapore’s national broadcaster, was flooded with criticism of the agreement.

“Of all countries you open up to the country where the virus originated … too risky,” one reader commented.

Another reader took aim at the “stupid decision” by saying, “We can’t go (to) the shopping centre or restaurants for meals, but Chinese can enter Singapore?”

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore announced recently that it would gradually allow travellers to transit through Changi Airport from Tuesday, when authorities plan to start gradually easing the current semi-lockdown imposed two months ago.

The Health Ministry on Saturday confirmed 506 additional cases of Covid-19, pushing the city-state’s cumulative count to over 34,000, the vast majority of them migrant labourers in crowded dormitories. Its death toll stands at 23.

In a related development, Cathay Pacific Airways said on Saturday that the reopening of transit services for passengers at Hong Kong International Airport from June 1 would not include those travelling to and from mainland China.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced earlier this week that some transit passengers would be allowed through the hub from Monday, but did not provide further details. Transit through the airport has been barred since March 25 as part of measures taken to help control the spread of the coronavirus.

Cathay said travellers could transit Hong Kong if their itinerary was on a single booking and the connection time to the next flight was within eight hours.

“In this first phase, transiting to and from destinations in mainland China is not available,” the airline said on its website.

China’s aviation regulator has been flooded with tens of thousands of social media comments criticising it and the Chinese government for the small number of flight options to bring home people stranded overseas.

The regulator drastically reduced the number of allowed international flights to prevent the potential of importing Covid-19 infections. Many foreign airlines are barred altogether and mainland carriers can fly just one weekly passenger flight on one route to any country, which has sent fares skyrocketing.

That rule does not apply to airlines from Hong Kong, such as Cathay, which are allowed more flights to and from the mainland, but the airline’s statement on Saturday indicated it cannot immediately take advantage of the boom in demand.

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