Singapore moves past COVID as Singapore Airlines expand passenger capacity to India

Singapore moves past COVID as Singapore Airlines expand passenger capacity to India

SINGAPORE: Singapore last week effectively moved into the post-COVID-19 era as the city-state announced the most significant lifting of pandemic restrictions to date.

The government announced on Friday, April 22, that from next Tuesday, residents will no longer be required to use TraceTogether, a system for COVID exposure contact tracing and that all vaccinated travellers can enter Singapore without restrictions and with no need for testing.
The announcement was warmly welcomed by those in the travel industry and one of the main beneficiaries is Singapore Airlines. Singapore’s national carrier had earlier announced that it will be launching A380 services to New Delhi and Mumbai in anticipation of the high demand for flights from those two cities to Singapore and beyond. SIA’s configuration on the Superjumbo allows it to accommodate over 470 passengers in four classes.

In recent months, travellers from India have made up the largest number of overseas arrivals in Singapore. For the first three months of this year, 54,530 Indians arrived in Singapore by air, almost double the next two largest groups who were from Indonesia (26,370) and Malaysia (20,270). Altogether, a total of 246,120 visitors arrived in Singapore during the first calendar quarter this year, still a far cry from the same pre-pandemic quarter in 2019 of 4.69 million.

Despite the recent easing of social restrictions, the number of cases in Singapore which has more than 93 per cent of its total population vaccinated, remained low with the seven-day moving average hovering around 3,000. This is down steeply from the Omicron peak of about 20,000 cases in late February and early March this year. People hospitalised and those in intensive care remain at very manageable numbers of 245 and 10 respectively.

The island republic also announced that it will be lowering its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) from orange to yellow on April 26. This means that life on the whole can go on as normal. Singapore was on Dorscon Orange since February 7, 2020.

From April 26, all workers can return to their place of work, and will no longer be required to wear facemask at their desks. There will also no longer be restrictions on gathering sizes. Singapore residents who over the last two years became used to carrying a TraceTogether token or the phone app equivalent, to check into buildings and certain areas, no longer need to do this. They can enter buildings through all entry points and not be restricted to the one or two that were used to control access for the purpose of contact tracing.

Already since April 19, nightlife and entertainment had been allowed to resume. When COVID restrictions were in place, drinking after 10.30 pm, dancing, singing, and partying were forbidden. Bars, clubs, discotheques, and karaoke lounges were closed.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a social media post that “we are cheered by the further easing of measures” and that “these changes will bring us almost all the way to how things were before COVID-19”.

Even before the lifting of these COVID-era measures, Singapore Airlines had already reported “a significant increase in passenger demand at both Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Scoot” in their March 2022 operating statistics update. The airline said that this was due to the easing of travel restrictions in almost all key markets and the Singapore government’s increased Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) quota for daily arrivals. The VTL scheme is now no longer in place since all restrictions on visitor arrivals have been removed for those vaccinated.

Singapore Airlines reported that its two airlines, SIA and budget airline Scoot, carried a total of 893,000 passengers during March, up from 544,600 in February 2022. Group passenger capacity (measured in available seat kilometres) reached 51 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels in March 2022, seven percentage points above the month before. Group passenger load factor (PLF) improved 15.4 percentage points to 54.5 per cent (a 41.7 per cent increase year-on-year), the highest since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Based on the airlines’ current published schedule, it expects passenger capacity to reach around 61 per cent of pre-Covid levels by May 2022.

As of the end of March 2022, Singapore Airlines’ passenger network covered 93 destinations including Singapore with SIA serving 69 destinations and Scoot 43. This was around two-thirds of the points flown before the pandemic.

As of now, Singapore Airlines flies to 14 Indian cities, covering eight with full-service carrier SIA and seven with Scoot. Both carriers fly to Hyderabad.

With most of its Southeast Asian competitors struggling during the pandemic, with some still in bankruptcy courts, some just emerging and others operating under tight financial constraints, Singapore Airlines stands to benefit the most as Southeast Asian countries open their borders.

For their third financial quarter which ended in December 2021, Singapore Airlines reported its first profitable quarter since the coronavirus outbreak and its share price has climbed 10 per cent from the beginning of the year.

Singapore tourism industry players have commented that the lifting of testing requirements for travellers is a massive boost for leisure travel, which has been lagging business travel. Some say that with its neighbours also relaxing their border controls, visitor arrivals could double in the next few months.

Earlier in April, the Singapore Trade and Industry Ministry announced a fresh injection of about SGD 500 million (USD 365 million) to support the tourism industry’s recovery from the COVID pandemic. The funds will be used to support strategic manpower capabilities, offset business costs, and amplify international recovery plans, with the aim to help the industry emerge stronger with news products and experiences.

Founder and director of Nam Ho DMC, Mahesh Pawanaskar, a firm which specialises in the Indian market, said to The Straits Times that his company handled about 150 visitors in March, with the numbers spiking to 700 in April. He added, “For May, we can surely expect strong growth, at least double of what we are seeing in April.” (ANI)

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