SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore is to allow a limited number of business, official and other “high economic value” travellers from around the world under a “bubble” arrangement that offers a glimpse into what visitors for this year’s relocated Davos summit might expect.
The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) will make its debut in Asia in May after being moved from its usual home in the Swiss ski resort of Davos over coronavirus safety concerns.
Singapore’s borders have been largely shut for most of 2020 as part of strict rules to keep out a virus still raging across the globe, and it faces challenges hosting an event that usually attracts thousands just five months from now.
The new arrangement due to start in late January will keep visitors segregated to guard against COVID-19 infection while allowing for safe meetings between people from abroad and from Singapore during stays lasting up to 14 days.
Announcing the scheme on Tuesday, the city-state’s trade minister Chan Chun Sing said that, while it was not specifically designed for WEF, the arrangement would offer lessons into how to manage such large-scale events.
Visitors would be regularly tested, have to stay in “bubbles” of five people at segregated facilities, carry contact-tracing devices and only meet other guests and Singapore-based people in rooms with floor-to-ceiling dividers, authorities said.
Singapore already has some arrangements with certain countries for restricted travel, but this is the first scheme open to visitors worldwide.
The Southeast Asian island nation has reported only a handful of local cases of coronavirus infection over the past two months, and has won praise, including from the World Health Organization, for its handling of the outbreak.
The first shots of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine are due to arrive in Singapore by the end of the year and authorities expect to have secured enough vaccines for its 5.7 million population by the third quarter of 2021.
A pilot short-stay facility being built at a convention centre near the airport could be among the venues to host WEF travellers.
The four-star-equivalent accommodation would have separate entrances, exits and ventilation systems for guests and Singapore-based visitors, said state investor Temasek, which is leading the project due to launch in the first quarter.
Guests would be able to meet their local counterparts or other guests in specially designed meeting rooms fitted with air-tight glass panels to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
Meals would be delivered to shelves installed outside guest rooms, staff would have to be routinely tested, and the facility would have automated systems for contact-tracing and testing waste water for early detection of coronavirus infection.
The facility would have more than 1,300 guest rooms and about 340 meeting rooms when completed by mid-2021. Trade minister Chan said the venue alone would likely not be large enough to host the WEF, but could stage side meetings during the event.
“This is a good template for the WEF despite the limitations of infection risks and the opportunity costs of regular testing and being confined in a particular zone or location,” said Prem Shamdasani of the National University of Singapore’s Business School.
Editing by John Geddie, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson
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