a large passenger jet flying through a cloudy blue sky: The travel pass will not be country specific and will allow individuals to travel to “quite a wide range of countries”. Photo: AFP

The travel pass will not be country specific and will allow individuals to travel to “quite a wide range of countries”. Photo: AFP

Singapore is piloting a travel-pass scheme that will give senior business executives returning to the city state from overseas trips the option to take a Covid-19 test and self-isolate until the results are out, in lieu of receiving a stay-home notice.

Currently, most travellers who get a stay-home notice – except those entering from countries deemed “low-risk”, including Malaysia and Taiwan – have to serve a compulsory 14-day period at designated hotels upon entering the city state, while self-isolation can be done at their place of residence.

The number of travel passes would initially be “strictly limited”, and those using them would have to abide by a “strictly controlled itinerary”, the health ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, as the government looks to slowly restart business and leisure travel to boost its pandemic-hit economy.

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Singapore’s borders have been closed to most travellers since March, and only business and official trips to specific countries – Japan, Malaysia, Brunei, South Korea, and six regions in mainland China – are allowed. Only foreign tourists from New Zealand and Brunei can enter the island nation, but they must get permission before arriving.

Education minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministerial task force that deals with the coronavirus, briefly elaborated on the travel pass by saying that it would not be country-specific and would allow individuals to travel to “quite a wide range of countries”.

“The idea is to be able to allow senior executives who are based in Singapore with extensive regional or international responsibilities to have a bit more flexibility to travel for work reasons,” he said.

The travel-pass announcement came as the government declared the resumption of more business activities, with Singapore’s daily rate of new Covid-19 cases falling to below 20 a day. The country recorded 12 new cases on Wednesday, bringing its total to 57,639.

Employers would now be able to bring more people back to the workplace, the authorities said during a virtual press conference, though they stressed that working from home should still remain the default.

Wong emphasised that certain regulations would still need to be observed, such as having no more than half of the company’s employees in the workplace at any time.

“For example, if there is an employer with 10 full-time employees who are currently working from home, (they) cannot ask all 10 to come back to the workplace,” he explained. “But what you can do is to split the 10 employees into two teams, and each team can return to the workplace every alternate week, while the other team continues to work from home.”

He said firms should also implement flexible workplace hours so employees could partly work from home, and workers’ reporting times should be staggered.

a man standing on a sidewalk: Regular testing is being carried out in Singapore's migrant worker community. Photo: AFP

© Provided by South China Morning Post
Regular testing is being carried out in Singapore’s migrant worker community. Photo: AFP

Work-related events such as conferences, seminars, corporate events and annual general meetings will be allowed to resume for up to 50 persons, with strict safe-distancing measures observed.

Meanwhile, starting October 3, the number of people allowed for religious and social gatherings will also be increased.

Religious organisations will be allowed to hold congregational and other worship services for 100 people, up from the previously permitted 50, with attendees broken up into two zones.

Up to 100 attendees will also be allowed at wedding receptions, doubling the previous limit. On the entertainment front, large cinemas – defined as those with more than 300 seats – will be allowed to have up to three zones of up to 50 patrons each, starting October 1.

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When asked if the country would soon see zero infections among its migrant worker community – the sector hit the hardest by the virus – Wong said that while regular testing was being carried out, there would still be a “very, very low level of ongoing transmission”.

Health minister Gan Kim Yong also struck a note of caution. “I should add that we all hope to see zero cases in the dormitory and in the community, but I must remind all of us that it doesn’t mean that there are no Covid-19 cases in Singapore because there will still be asymptomatic cases, and undetected cases,” he said.

“There’s no possibility of (zero cases) in the whole of Singapore until we have the vaccine available so therefore, I think we need to continue to be vigilant.”

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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