aviation

Because of a vaccination rate that is too low? The Swiss are left behind when it comes to flights to Asia – that also affects Swiss

Singapore has agreements with countries like Germany and Italy for flights that only allow vaccinated passengers. Switzerland would also like to benefit from this, but nothing will come of it – for the time being.

The Asian city-state of Singapore has signed agreements with several countries to organize flights with only vaccinated passengers on board. Before the pandemic, Swiss also operated regular passenger flights into the country.

The relief was great – no, huge. When the USA announced on September 20 that vaccinated non-Americans would also be allowed to travel to the United States from November, the Swiss leadership took a load off the heart. After all, the United States is the Lufthansa subsidiary’s most important target market.

The USA flights will alleviate the plight of Swiss and the other European airlines somewhat in the coming months. However, winter is not considered a particularly popular travel season for the USA. The large number of bookings will not follow until spring and summer. But even regardless of the USA, worries in aviation remain high. Because important Asian countries still do not allow entry, or only allow it to a very limited extent. So does Singapore.

No vaccination, no plane ticket

The city-state – often referred to as the Switzerland of Asia – has recently opened up somewhat. Since September 8th, fully vaccinated travelers from Germany can travel to Singapore again. The previously prescribed quarantine on arrival is no longer applicable. In the industry there is talk of “VTL” flights, the abbreviation for “Vaccinated Travel Lane”, ie vaccinated travel lane. No vaccination, no plane ticket.

Switzerland could also have made use of this VTL option. As the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (Bazl) confirmed to this newspaper at the beginning of September, Singapore had contacted them for a corresponding agreement. For the time being, however, it was decided to wait for the first experiences with the Lufthansa flights.

France and Italy on Singapore’s green list

Only: In the meantime, other countries have jumped on the Singapore bandwagon, as can be read on the updated list from Singapore Airlines. According to this, vaccinated flights will also be possible from October 19 to and from Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Great Britain, Canada and the USA, and from mid-November to and from South Korea. There is no trace of Switzerland on the list.

The Federal Office for Civil Aviation shrugs its shoulders: “We are not exactly aware of the criteria for a country to be included in Singapore’s VTL country list,” says spokesman Christian Schubert. Presumably, the authorities would take into account the vaccination rates and Covid infection numbers in the respective countries. “In this respect, we can only speculate that the Swiss vaccination rate and / or the number of new corona infections in Switzerland will not meet the Singapore criteria for inclusion in the VTL list.”

There is hope for Swiss

After all: Switzerland recently reached the threshold of 60 percent in the quota of fully vaccinated people, while Germany brings it to just under 65 percent, Italy to 69 and France to 67. Thus, from the Swiss point of view, there is hope that with increasing vaccination – Progress a Singapore cooperation could still be possible. In addition, Australia recently announced similar flight partnerships with countries with a high vaccination rate.

Schubert admits that it would be “certainly desirable” for Swiss in particular to get Switzerland on this list. “Since admission depends on the course of the pandemic and the progress of the vaccination, there is no way for the Swiss authorities to influence the existing measures to combat the pandemic.” Swiss has been flying to the Asian city-state for around ten years, which is not only a major transfer hub, but also a popular destination for Swiss bankers. After all, Singapore is an important offshore financial center.

Swiss spokesman Marco Lipp says that they are still interested in adding Switzerland to Singapore’s VTL list. “However, it is up to the authorities to create the appropriate framework for this.” Like the federal government, the airline also suspects the local vaccination rate and the number of cases as the reason that Switzerland is not on the list. Since most of the Asian destinations of the Swiss route network currently do not allow passenger traffic, the load factor will be low until the rest of the year.

At Lufthansa, they are satisfied with the VTL concept: “The experience has been positive, the offer has been accepted,” says spokesman Jörg Waber. They currently offer two VTL flights per week. He does not provide any information on the number of passengers, but holds out the prospect of further VTL agreements: “We are in constant contact with the authorities in various countries to discuss the requirements for resuming or expanding flights.”

So far, only a few Asian countries have relaxed the entry rules, including Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Nepal or Thailand with the so-called sandpit model: tourists can enter certain particularly popular regions of the country without quarantine, such as Phuket, where priority is given to vaccinating the local population.

However, Thailand will open its borders to fully vaccinated air travelers from low-risk countries from November 1st, the government announced on Monday. These include Germany, China, the USA, Great Britain and Singapore, among others. For the time being, however, Switzerland seems to have missed out on this as well. An expansion to other countries is planned for December. A negative PCR test and another on-site test are also required for entry. After that, the tourists can move about as freely as the locals. A seven-day quarantine is currently mandatory for vaccinated guests.

According to the industry portal Travelnews.ch, the Indonesian holiday island of Bali and Vietnam are also providing hope for travelers and tourism companies with new announcements. Bali will reopen its international airports on Thursday to receive arrivals from a selected number of countries. Whether foreign guests are also welcome has been rumored by the Asian media, but has not yet been confirmed. The entry regulations on site are also not yet clear. Indonesia is one of the hardest hit countries in Asia in terms of Covid cases and death victims.

According to Reuters, Vietnam is planning to reopen important travel destinations for vaccinated visitors from countries classified as “low risk” from December onwards. However, a full reopening is not planned for June 2022. Currently, just under 15 percent of the country’s population is vaccinated – one of the lowest values ​​in Asia.

Assistance: Stefan Ehrbar

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