Singapore must adapt to a new normal where borders can be kept open and safe for passengers, airport workers, their families, and the larger community so that Changi can continue to thrive as a safe aviation hub, said Minister for Transport S Iswaran in Parliament on Tuesday (6 July).
He was responding to several questions from various members of Parliament regarding the ever-changing safety measures at airports for both passengers and airport workers.
Mr Iswaran noted that the measures are reviewed regularly to take into account public health experts’ latest understanding of the virus and the evolving COVID-19 situation around the world.
He then outlined the evolving measures from temperature and health screening for arriving travellers in January 2020 while disallowing short term visitors to January 2021 when on arrival tests at separate health screening stations for passengers from high-risk places were made mandatory.
In that one year, other measures were introduced in stages as the situation developed, from closing borders to all short term visitors in March 2020, adopting a risk-based differentiated border measure for returning citizens, PRS, and long term pass holders.
Also, escorting arrivals directly to dedicated SHN facilities from the airport to serve out mandatory Stay-home notices.
Mr Iswaran asserted, “The aviation community was able to keep our borders open while keeping Singapore and Singaporeans safe.”
However, he also noted the recent emergence of the Delta variant of the virus which has caused a new wave of infections across the world regardless of defences, including Singapore.
The Minister explained that Jewel at Changi was immediately closed and public access to the airport terminals were restricted when this variant was detected in Singapore.
On 14 June, Jewel reopened but the terminals remained closed to the public.
“The Ministry of Health monitors the public health situation overseas and assesses the appropriate risk level, taking into consideration information from the WHO experts and academic networks as well as Singapore missions overseas,” Mr Iswaran assured.
“Depending on how the risk profile changes, CAAS and our aviation stakeholders then promptly adjust their protocols.”
This led to the further tightening of measures at airports in consultation with the Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), according to Mr Iswaran.
He explained, “Beyond the earlier passenger segregation measures, the airport itself is now segregated into physical zones.
“Disembarkation piers, toilets, arrival, immigration halls and baggage claim belts are now separate for passengers from places of different risks.”
He added, “Changi now also processes passengers from very high-risk places at dedicated bus gates at Terminal 2, which is currently closed for renovation. These passengers are then transported directly to their SHN dedicated facilities.”
“We do not allow transfer passengers from these very high-risk places, and Changi is also studying the option of using Terminal 4 for such passengers.”
Focusing on measures implemented to keep airport workers safe, Mr Iswaran noted the prioritisation of vaccination of aviation workers. So far, 95 per cent of front-line aviation workers are fully vaccinated, said the minister.
Beyond that, appropriate personal protective equipment is provided to airport workers as well as more frequent routine testing, while workers at higher risk zones are cohorted and have separate toilets, dining, and rest facilities.
“Collectively, these measures represent a fundamental shift in operations imposing further adjustments and stress on our airport workers as they adjust to a very different workflow,” said Mr Iswaran.
He acknowledged the effects that such social isolation may have on airport workers and noted that the MOT is working closely with union leaders and industry players to help them adapt to these new measures.
“My Ministry and I are deeply appreciative of the sacrifices made by the airport community to ensure that our borders, remain open for essential supplies and for Singaporeans to return home,” he said, adding that the aviation community has set aside S$15 million for airport workers welfare in this time.
Mr Iswaran stressed, “Even as we stay vigilant and adjust to protect ourselves from the evolving virus, we must do our best to safeguard Singapore’s hard-earned position as a global air hub.
“We must adapt to a new normal where we keep our borders open and safe for passengers airport workers their families and the community.
“Only then can Changi continue to thrive as a safe aviation hub connecting Singapore to the world and the world to Singapore.”