Singapore Tightens Border Measures Over Concerns of Omicron Variant

By Cindy Liu
Cindy Liu
Cindy Liu
December 2, 2021 Updated: December 2, 2021

Singapore will adopt stricter healthcare protocols over concerns of the Omicron variant, announced Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in the multi-ministry task force press conference on Nov. 30.

While the city-state’s existing approach to handling the Delta variant is to “co-exist” with it, the new protocols are intended to “contain” the emerging Omicron variant, according to Ong.

First detected in South Africa, the Omicron variant exhibits a large number of mutations and may cause a higher risk of reinfection. It was designated to be a “variant of concern” by The World Health Organization on Nov. 26.

With the new measures, the Singapore government hopes to gain time to better understand the highly mutated variant.

Stricter Border Controls

Stricter border controls will be imposed under the new measures.

Travelers entering or transiting through Singapore after Dec. 2, 2021 must obtain a negative pre-departure test result and go through a COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test on arrival.

Additional supervised Antigen Rapid Tests (ARTs) at the designated test centers on the third and the seventh day after arrival are also required for travelers entering Singapore after Dec. 2.

No Option for Home Recovery

Individuals suspected of being infected by Omicron will be admitted to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). Confirmed cases will stay at NCID until they are determined to be noninfectious through repeat testing. There is no option for a Home Recovery Program (HRP).

Currently, individuals testing positive with no severe medical conditions are placed in the HRP by default, except for certain groups that might be at a higher risk of severe illness.

Full contact tracing will be conducted. Contacts will be placed under quarantine and tested with PCR.

Push for Vaccination to Continue

There are no clear conclusions yet to the pressing concerns regarding the Omicron variant, such as whether it is more transmissible compared to the other variants.

Key aspects to watch out for include its incubation and infectious period, the capability of the Antigen Rapid Test (ART) to pick up infections, severity of infection, and the efficacy of existing vaccines against the highly mutated variant, according to Ong.

Despite these unknowns, the push for vaccination in Singapore will continue.

Currently, 94 percent of the eligible population has completed the full vaccination regimen, which accounts for 85 percent of Singapore’s total population. Meanwhile, 26 percent of the total population has received booster shots.

Vaccination for children aged 5 to 11 is also under preparation, the health minister said.

Among the cases infected by the Omicron variant in South Africa, 65 percent are unvaccinated and the remaining 35 percent are partially vaccinated, according to Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital.

Referring to the situation in South Africa, Ong said that “these are very brief early data but it suggests that the vaccine could still be effective and underscores the importance of vaccines. If anything, it is a much more valuable insurance against a big unknown confronting the world now.”

Recent detections of the new variant have triggered alarm across the world. More than 10 countries and regions, including Australia, Canada, and Hong Kong, have reported cases infected by the Omicron variant.

Two imported cases from Johannesburg were “preliminarily” detected to be Omicron infections on Dec. 2 in Singapore.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cindy Liu