Singapore announced on Thursday that all vaccinated travelers will be exempt from quarantine beginning next month, joining a growing number of Asian countries that are adopting a “living with the virus” approach.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the financial hub will no longer require masks to be worn outside and will allow larger groups to congregate.
“Our fight against COVID-19 has reached a critical juncture,” Lee said during a televised speech that was also streamed on Facebook. “We will make a decisive step toward coexistence with COVID-19.”
Singapore was one of the first countries to transition from a containment strategy to the new COVID normal for its 5.5 million population, but due to subsequent outbreaks, it had to slow some of its easing plans.
Now, as infection surges caused by the Omicron variant begin to subside in most countries in the region and vaccination rates improve, Singapore and other nations are removing a host of social distancing measures designed to stop the spread of the virus.
Singapore began lifting quarantine restrictions for vaccinated travellers from certain countries in September, with 32 countries on the list before Thursday’s extension to vaccinated visitors from any nation.
Japan lifted this week restrictions imposed on Tokyo and 17 other prefectures that had limited hours of eateries and other businesses.
South Korea, where COVID infections this week topped 10 million but appear to be stabilizing, pushed back a curfew on eateries to 11 p.m., stopped enforcing vaccine passes and dropped quarantine for vaccinated travellers arriving from overseas.
Indonesia dropped quarantine requirements for all arrivals from overseas this week, and its Southeast Asian neighbors of Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia took similar measures, as they seek to rebuild tourism sectors.
Indonesia is also lifting a ban on travel for a Muslim holiday in early May that traditionally sees millions of people head to villages and towns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Australia will lift its entry ban for international cruise ships next month, effectively ending all major COVID-related travel bans after two years.
New Zealand this week ended mandatory vaccine passes to visit restaurants, coffee shops and other public spaces. It will also lift vaccine mandates for a number of sectors from April 4 and open the borders for those on visa-waiver programmes from May.
Hong Kong, which has registered the most deaths per million people globally in recent weeks, plans to relax some measures next month, lifting a ban on flights from nine countries, reducing quarantine and reopening schools after a backlash from business and residents.