Expats eagerly wait as Singapore assesses COVID-19 reopening

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SINGAPORE – Britain’s Jamie Pierre has been trying to get permission to travel to Singapore for his new job there for months. But after repeated online checks and multiple emails and messages, he’s frustrated, confused, and still without an entry permit.

Now, as Singapore says it could facilitate COVID-19 quarantines in September for those vaccinated, it hardly dares to feel optimistic.

“It gives me some hope,” said Pierre, 32, who works for a marketing sourcing platform.

“But… I sort of temper that hope” with the concern of more delays, he added.

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The pandemic has disrupted global mobility on a scale unprecedented since World War II. Governments in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, China, Thailand and Hong Kong, have maintained quarantine and entry requirements.

Singapore – long known as a global financial hub for highly mobile foreign professionals – has had particularly stringent border checks, quarantine, and contact tracing. It has been one of the most effective countries in the fight against COVID-19, with just 39 deaths.

But for its legions of foreign workers – who make up a fifth of the 5.7 million population – the restrictions have been a nightmare, many have found themselves stranded abroad despite their jobs and visas, and others are afraid. to leave for fear of not being allowed to return. .

The government recently said it plans to travel without quarantine for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from September, when 80% of the population is expected to be vaccinated. It also plans to review some virus restrictions in early August, when two-thirds are on track to be inoculated.

‘IN LIMBO’

The pandemic has forced Singapore to weigh its reputation as one of the most accessible trading climates in the world against its efforts to control the virus.

“As a small economy, Singapore must and will remain open and connected to the world,” the labor and trade ministries told Reuters in a written response to questions.

“We cannot afford and have no intention of shutting ourselves off from the world any longer than necessary,” he added.

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Since last year, foreign work visa holders need special permits to enter Singapore. The city-state largely stopped accepting new applications from most countries in May after an increase in coronavirus cases around the world.

Although many workers entered successfully, others were frustrated. A Facebook group of 18,000 members presents browsing accounts in an opaque permit system.

There is no official data on the number of foreign workers stranded, but an online petition calling for entry of vaccinated pass holders from India has nearly 5,000 signatories, many of whom tell stories families separated for months.

Singapore-based business owner Yigit Ali Ural traveled to Turkey last month for a family emergency. Unsure of getting permission to return, he gave up his rented apartment, losing thousands of dollars in deposit.

“We are in limbo – if we are to stay in Turkey and try to get back to Singapore. Or just forget about it, ”said Ural, who is Turkish-American.

Pierre worked remotely until he was allowed to enter Singapore. He spent months in Airbnbs and temporary accommodation in the UK with his wife and toddler.

“I basically have to work irregular hours to be able to stay in communication with the area,” Pierre said, calling the situation “stressful”.

The Singapore government has said the approvals are based on the COVID-19 risk levels of the countries applicants come from, and that it prioritizes the most critical travelers.

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REOPENING IN STANDBY

Attempts to reopen Singapore are being watched closely – not only by anxious expats, but also by other countries that are further behind in vaccinations.

“Other countries currently pursuing zero COVID strategies, such as China, Hong Kong, Australia and Taiwan, will keep a close eye on Singapore’s progress,” said Gareth Leather of Capital Economics.

A decrease in the number of foreigners last year lowered Singapore’s population by 0.3% https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-singapore-population-idUSKCN26G08V to 5.69 million, the first drop since 2003.

The number of job pass holders, defined as professionals earning at least S $ 4,500 per month, fell 8.6% to 177,100 in 2020.

For now, expats who have not seen their families since the start of the pandemic are closely monitoring the September plan.

“Getting there is easy. But what are my chances of coming back? said Maura Geertsma, who is Dutch. “I have to be sure I can go back to Singapore. “

($ 1 = 1.3526 Singapore dollars)

(Written by Aradhana Aravindan. Editing by Kay Johnson and Gerry Doyle.)

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