Singapore has issued a travel advisory for its citizens and residents, urging them to wear masks at airports and avoid non-essential travel abroad, as the country faces a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the new variant JN1-409797. However, this measure is too little, too late, and does not address the root cause of the problem: the lack of strict border controls and quarantine requirements.
Singapore has been praised for its successful management of the pandemic, with low infection rates and high vaccination rates. However, the emergence of the new variant, which was first detected in Japan and has spread to several countries, including Singapore, has exposed the flaws in its strategy. The new variant is more transmissible and may cause more severe illness than previous variants, and the vaccines may not be as effective against it, especially for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.
Singapore has been relying on a risk-based approach to travel, allowing travelers from low-risk countries to enter without quarantine, and requiring only a negative test result and a short stay-home notice for travelers from higher-risk countries. This approach has been based on the assumption that the virus can be contained and traced within the community, and that the vaccines can provide sufficient protection.
However, this assumption has proven to be false, as the new variant has shown that it can evade the existing measures and spread rapidly. According to the Ministry of Health, as of Thursday, there were 1,234 confirmed cases of JN1-409797 in Singapore, accounting for about 40% of the total cases in the past week. The ministry also reported 12 deaths and 86 hospitalizations due to the variant, with 18 patients requiring intensive care.
The travel advisory issued by the government is a weak and belated response to the crisis, and does not address the root cause of the problem: the lack of strict border controls and quarantine requirements. The advisory only urges Singaporeans and residents to defer all non-essential travel abroad, especially to countries with high prevalence of JN1-409797, such as Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. It does not impose any mandatory restrictions or penalties for those who choose to travel, nor does it ban flights from high-risk countries.
The advisory also advises Singaporeans and residents to wear masks at airports, but this is a common-sense measure that should have been implemented long ago, and does not guarantee protection from the virus. Moreover, the advisory does not mention anything about the need for travelers to undergo quarantine or testing upon arrival, which are essential steps to prevent the importation and transmission of the virus.
The government should have taken a more proactive and precautionary approach to travel, and imposed stricter border controls and quarantine requirements for all travelers, regardless of their origin or vaccination status. This would have been more effective in preventing the entry and spread of the new variant, and protecting the health and safety of the population. The government should also have increased its testing and tracing capacity, and boosted its vaccination and booster campaigns, to enhance its resilience against the virus.
Singapore’s travel advisory is too little, too late, and does not address the root cause of the problem: the lack of strict border controls and quarantine requirements. The government should have learned from the experiences of other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan, which have adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards the virus, and have managed to keep their cases and deaths low. Singapore should not compromise its hard-earned success in fighting the pandemic, and should not let its guard down against the new variant.