More data is required in order to assess if changes can be made to border control measures for people who have been vaccinated, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary in Parliament on Monday (5 April).
Responding to several questions from various Members of Parliament (MPs) regarding a digital vaccine passport system and how that might work in Singapore, Dr Puthucheary said that the data on the duration on the vaccine’s protection and effectiveness in preventing transmission of COVID-19 has been “encouraging” so far.
However, he added, “More data is needed to assess if changes to border measures such as testing and stay-home notice requirements can be made for vaccinated individuals.
“More information is also needed to assess if such measures will be affected by the different types of vaccines. We are actively discussing with international counterparts on the possible mutual recognition of vaccination certificates.”
Dr Puthucheary had also noted that many countries have only just begun vaccination efforts, which means that border measures would have to take into account the number of COVID-19 cases in different countries as well as infection control measures implemented there.
“Hence progress on cross-border recognition of vaccine certification may take some time. We will provide further updates when there is significant progress,” added the SMS.
Responding to a question from Sengkang GRC MP Jamus Lim of whether the vaccine passport recognition would influence Singapore’s decision to approve certain vaccines, Dr Puthucheary said that the state will only approve COVID-19 vaccines that have met the “high safety, quality and efficacy standards” for use.
He explained in his earlier answer, “The effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are currently the only COVID-19 vaccines allowed for use in Singapore, are widely recognised internationally.”
Dr Puthucheary also said that further information on how people can show their valid vaccination status will be released by the Ministry of Health at a later date. The process, he said, would be made “easy and convenient” even for those without smartphones.
“The measures required for the unvaccinated are generally based on public health considerations to prevent infection and so would not distinguish between those who chose not to be vaccinated and those who were not medically eligible,” said the minister.
In response to a supplementary question by West Coast GRC MP, Foo Mee Har on whether Singapore has reviewed the scientific basis for the United States’ Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s updated federal guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals, Dr Puthucheary said that they have.
The CDC has declared that vaccinated travellers do not need to be tested for COVID-19 unless required by the destination country. It also stated that vaccinated individuals would not be required to quarantine upon returning to the US.
Dr Puthucheary responded that as of 24 April in Singapore, fully vaccinated individuals are allowed to enter events that require pre-event testing without having to do so if it has been more than two weeks since they’ve had their second dose.
To this, Dr Puthucheary said that it does not, adding that the factors taken into account for approving a vaccine are the vaccine’s quality and safety and efficacy.
Another question raised regarding the digital vaccine passport system was about that between Singapore and Australia and other travel bubble arrangements with countries that have the pandemic under control.
Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung said that the state is exploring with several countries and regions on the mutual recognition of such certificates. He said that the certificates could be digital or physical but would need to be “secure, tamper proof and verifiable”.
However, he went on to say that other aspects have to be taken into account as well including social distancing, quarantine, contact tracing and testing in controlling the spread of the pandemic even as vaccines are made available.
West Coast GRC MP, Ang Wei Neng then asked the minister about the Hong Kong government’s recent decision to bar Singapore Airlines from flying to the city for two weeks would affect the travel bubble negotiations between the two cities.
Mr Ong responded that the suspension does not affect the talks.
He also explained that the airline was suspended as it had breached the Hong Kong civil aviation authority’s strictly enforced COVID-19 safety criteria.
In fact, the airline had been suspended 23 times before this latest incident. This most recent suspension was triggered due to “technical reasons” that breached the criteria, said Mr Ong, such as a transit passenger testing negative on departure but positive on arrival, and several other passengers carrying vaccination certificates from non-ISO certified laboratories.
He went on to emphasise that Singapore is still keen on working to establish restore a bubble with Hong Kong.
Mr Ong also noted that the public will be informed when there has been “significant” progress in the discussions of mutually recognising vaccination certificates with other countries and the establishment of travel bubbles.