by Henry Tan
I refer to the announcement about the reciprocal green lane arrangement (RGL) between Indonesia and Singapore, and other similar arrangements with Brunei, China, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan.
Essentially, they are arrangements to avoid quarantine or isolation. There is a gap in the information that is worrying.
Much is reported about the testing and prevention measures that replace quarantine and isolation, particularly pre-departure and post-arrival PCR swab tests for people using the RGL, but nothing is said about the risk that they may pick up the virus between the time of the pre-departure test and boarding the flight – which can be up to 72 hours – or from other passengers including transit ones during the flight.
It is known by now that a few days may pass before the virus starts replicating in one’s throat and nose; hence, a PCR test wouldn’t be able to identify someone who has recently been infected.
Also, given that the travel time between those countries and Singapore are in terms of hours, not days, such tests are rather premature to flag out infected passengers.
This logic also implies that post-arrival – presumably on or soon after arrival – PCR tests do not capture infection acquired a few days before or during the flight, as it is simply too early to be detected.
One cannot help but feel that the risk of importing the virus is probably significantly higher than a cursory reading of the announcement would have us believe. Shouldn’t the Health Minister tell us more about this risk?
The consequences of eliminating quarantine and isolation at our borders can open up another wave of infection. If that happens, another lockdown or circuit breaker may be required, which will send our economy into the intensive ward – taking more lives, and causing more sufferings.
Such impact must surely outweigh the benefit of speeding up international travel by replacing proven methods of quarantine and isolation plus testing with just simply testing alone.
New Zealand has shown that relentless quarantine or isolation for 14 days, coupled with testing at the borders, is currently the best way of controlling and virtually eliminating the virus. New Zealand would rather take the short economic pain of restricted international travel than risk another serious outbreak that could further damage an already weakened economy, and cause further loss of lives.
Why shouldn’t we do the same?