PM Lee: Freedom to travel 'a long way off'; even travel bubbles 'not easy'

But Singapore cannot afford to seal its borders off to the rest of the world, PM Lee said.

Nigel Chua | May 21, 2021, 11:45 AM

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Singapore is "a long way off" from being able to open its borders to international travellers in the way that it did before, said Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) in an interview on May 19.

However, PM Lee explained that Singapore could not afford to seal its borders off to the rest of the world.

This is because Singapore is "a small open country" that is reliant on food and fuel from other countries, as well as "people moving in and out, even during Covid-19."

Thus, he said, Singapore could only close borders "to the extent that [it] can", even while taking precautions against the spread of the virus.

"We have various ways of enabling safe travel between us and other countries," he said, acknowledging that while there were limits on the number of people who could travel, "at least it keeps the channels open."

He described the approach as "not without risk, but unavoidable."

Travel bubbles: "Not easy to make a match"

PM Lee also spoke about travel bubbles and how Singapore viewed them.

He pointed out that that it was "not easy to make a match" with another country to establish a travel bubble, as countries would only want to establish a travel bubble with other countries that were relatively safer.

Furthermore, PM Lee said, the countries involved would need to have "confidence", and expressed hopes that this could be restored by vaccination, which would help to bring the disease under control.

PM Lee elaborated on this later in the interview, saying that what was needed was "mutual understanding of each other’s situations, and mutual confidence that we will be open with one another and will keep things under control, or if not, we will fly a red flag straightaway."

Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble

He also acknowledged that Singapore's agreement with Hong Kong to establish a travel bubble had not yet been implemented, saying that "it may be a while before it comes into effect."

PM Lee also answered a question posed by the moderator about whether there was "an international consortium to try to encourage more travel going forward to reopen as quickly", and if Singapore was part of it.

He said that there was no such international consortium, as countries were "not yet ready", and pointed out that some countries are "still tightening up their rules" due to increased incidence of more transmissible mutant strains of Covid-19.

PM Lee said that Singapore hopes to "have a wider inkblot" by joining various travel bubbles together, but said that this would "take a while".

PM Lee also expressed concerns about the Covid-19 situation in other parts of the world, such as India, Latin America, and Africa.

Singapore is "far from out of the woods"

Singapore is "far from out of the woods" in its management of the Covid-19 situation, PM Lee said, providing an overview of Singapore's situation.

Because of this, PM Lee said, countries "cannot afford to slacken" as the Covid-19 outbreak "pops up in a new direction" whenever it seems to be under control.

However, he said that Singapore's experience with SARS in 2003 "primed our system" to deal with the "next new disease", making it easier for the government to have "the right policies", as well as the cooperation of the population.

PM Lee's interview was part of the US Chamber of Commerce's inaugural Global Forum on Economic Recovery. You can access the transcript here, or watch the interview here:

Top image screenshot from PMO on YouTube