Over 1,000 people traveled through the S’pore-Germany program Vaccinated Travel Lane, Europe News & Top Stories
BERLIN – The bus stops outside Frankfurt City Hall, the final destination after an eight-day tour of Germany. Six Singaporean tourists descend and once in the open plaza, most remove their masks. In Germany, masks are currently not mandatory outdoors, and there are no restrictions on group size, as long as social distancing – of 1.5m – is maintained.
Ms Novita Lam, a 27-year-old bank worker and Instagrammer from Singapore, says she feels safe nonetheless.
“In Germany there are fewer people in the streets and in the squares than in Singapore,” she said.
She arrived in Germany just over a week ago with the first group of tourists from Singapore via the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) program, “reliving history” by visiting castles, palaces and historic sites. medieval towns along the âRomantic Roadâ – a scenic 350 km route through the forests and mountains of the southern German provinces of Bavaria and Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg.
In a store of famous “cuckoo clocks” in the Black Forest, his group was the first to come from Asia since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Lam has visited Europe every year since 2016, but was unable to do so in 2020. After just over a week in Germany, she said: “The step towards normalcy is reassuring.”
On the last day of her trip, she is scheduled to pass a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, one of four she will have to undergo as part of the VTL. The remaining three tests will be carried out in Singapore.
Since September 8, fully vaccinated passengers have been able to travel between Singapore and Germany on designated VTL flights operated by Singapore Airlines (SIA) and German airline Lufthansa. They must have stayed in Germany or Singapore within the 21 days prior to departure.
Travelers arriving from Germany on designated VTL flights to Singapore may undergo a testing regime instead of serving a stay-at-home notice. Vaccinated travelers from Singapore do not have to self-quarantine in Germany.
SIA offers a VTL flight every day; Lufthansa on Thursdays and Saturdays. More than 20 of the VTL flights have since carried more than 1,000 passengers between Singapore and Germany.
Lufthansa has seen demand for the route quadruple since the introduction of VTL to Singapore. Demand had fallen due to the pandemic and lockdowns.
âGlobal quarantine restrictions were the number one reason people didn’t fly. Once those restrictions are lifted, people travel again,â said Ms. Sabrina Winter, Lufthansa Group Airlines Asia Director. Southeast and the Pacific.
“Singapore is the first country in the region to open a quarantine-free travel corridor for fully vaccinated people between Europe and Asia. This is an important step that could pave the way for other countries as well,” she added.
Businessmen like e-book publisher Sebastian Hallenberger, 37, have particularly welcomed the VTL. He was one of those who wouldn’t have made his flight without him. A week ago, he returned from Singapore on a business trip.
âTwo weeks of quarantine certainly wouldn’t have worked. I have to take care of my family and my society,â he said.
Before taking off for Singapore, Hallenberger was concerned about the check-in process through the TraceTogether app and how long it would take to receive the necessary negative test result upon arrival. His fears were misplaced.
âI landed in Singapore at 5 pm and was at the hotel pool that evening. Everything was super organized,â he said.
So after a year and a half and countless videoconferences, he was finally able to organize face-to-face meetings with publishers in Singapore again in an attempt to grow his e-book business in Asia. âThe trip finally allowed me to continue to build confidence,â he said.
Singapore remains a hub for German businesses.
âMany German companies run their activities for the whole Asean region from Singapore,â said Singapore-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry Director Dr Tim Philippi.
The chamber has 600 members from 360 companies.
âThe VTL was very well received by our members. It allowed many to finally visit their families in Germany without wasting too much time,â he said.
In turn, more than 2,000 Singaporeans living in Germany have also benefited. Many belong to a Facebook group “Singaporeans in Germany”, which uses it to exchange information and advice on the newly created VTL.
Coordinator Laura Ng, 32, knows that some are still reluctant to return home.
“They are concerned that as the number of infections rises again, the rules will change and already booked VTL flights may be canceled,” she said, adding that the four PCR tests were also expensive.
Ms. Ng, who has not visited her family for two years, hopes the situation will continue to stabilize in the future.
But for now, many are cheering for the VTL, hoping instead that it will expand.
âI have been guiding groups across Europe for 27 years and for the past few months I can barely work,â said Gary Teo, 49, guide for the Singaporean tour group in Frankfurt.
If VTLs are established in other European cities than Frankfurt and Munich, he will also be able to lead groups there. âIt’s like coming home,â he said.