Travelling during a pandemic is not straight forward. In fact we have not been able to leave Singapore since the COVID-19 pandemic began as the government effectively closed the borders. This meant that people could leave but everyone except Singapore citizens had to apply to the ministry of Manpower for permission to return. There had to be an essential business reason for someone to do so. Dependents were generally not granted permission. Families were separated for months, sometimes over a year, long periods of time in any event. There was a waiting period between applications to return too. Most recently the Singapore Government stopped granting permission to return for over a month whilst back on Phase 2 heightened alert. This has created a further backlog of people wanted to re-join families. Serious illness or death of a family member was not a reason to be granted permission to return. As a consequence, families have been devastated by the loss of family members and not being able to be with them. Me included.
Just a side note here. People in the U.K. are complaining about not being able to go on holiday abroad because of restrictions. There are many people stuck abroad, from many different countries around the world, who would love to be able to get back to their home countries but can’t. Australia even barred its own citizens travelling from India at one point, they were so afraid of the Delta variant being brought into the country. Watching from abroad in Singapore, and dealing with some of those restrictions and challenges ourselves, I find it so entitled of the Brits to think that they are having their “rights” restricted because they can’t go on holiday abroad. People have died In their millions. Families have been torn apart and separated for months on end. Life events have happened in families without everyone being there. And yet Brits whinge and moan about not being able to holiday abroad. It’s so self centred and lacking compassion.
The U.K. has its own system, which is much more flexible, called the traffic light list. Countries are classed as green, amber or red – with different rules about quarantine and Covid-19 tests depending on whether the country someone is travelling from has been grouped into green, amber or red by the U.K. Government. The rules are broadly the same for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A person does not have to quarantine after visiting or returning from the green list countries, although there were only 11 of these until it was recently increased to 27. Countries on the red list are considered the highest risk, and travel to and from the UK is strictly limited. Most popular tourist destinations are on the amber list – the government currently advises that people should not holiday in these countries. Any tourist returning from an amber list country currently has to self-isolate for 10 days on their return to the UK. All countries go onto the amber list unless there is specific evidence to suggest they should be on the green or red lists. The decision is taken by ministers, and informed by their advisers, the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), which looks at the Covid-19 situation in each country. The lists are reviewed every three weeks. A country can be moved between lists at short notice. Travelling from a Green list country requires a pre departure COVID-19 test no more than 3 days before departure and obviously must be negative. The certificate is required to check in and board the flight.
Tests are conducted at specific hospitals in Singapore and have to be booked in advance. We completed all the online forms and documentation and after gaining access to the hospital via their own COVID-19 protection screening (yes, I know, the irony is completely lost on them) we found the office on the second floor dealing with pre flight Covid-19 tests. We completed the forms, again, in triplicate, as well as providing our passports and ID cards. It took 25 minutes of form filling, document scanning, computer data filling before we were escorted back out of the hospital to the outside test centre. (To which we went to first and were turned away – bureaucracy at its best). We walked into a room set up with cubicles and people in full PPE gear akin to hazmat suits. We had to follow the lines on the floor to our designated area at which point our forms were handed over and we were each allocated a booth. Zahra’s swab master explained the process to her. Mine just asked me to remove my mask. I had to ask if it was a nose or mouth swab. It was a nose swab. He then proceeded to place the longest Qtip up my nose and just when I thought it couldn’t go any further, it did. I instinctively pulled back, so he went in further. I swear he cleaned the back of my eyeball! My eyes started watering. The next nostril received the same treatment, at which point my eyes were streaming. The whole process took about a minute. We were dismissed onto the street and that was it. Thankfully my husband had asked when to expect the results and how – within 24 hours via email. A tense wait lay ahead.
My husband received his negative test result first via the Singpass app. Mine and my daughter’s took a few hours later and arrived by email with a barcode. The relief was palpable. We could now fly home to the U.K.
A Passenger Locator Form has to be completed to board the flight too, except this can only be completed with 48 hours of arrival. The flight is 13.5 hours, meaning the form can only be completed on the morning of the day of the flight. On or after 2 days of being back in the U.K. a PCR test has to be done – at home. These also have to be ordered in advance and delivered in time to meet the deadline. We’ve already ordered those and they have been delivered and waiting for us at our U.K. serviced accommodation.
Now it’s time to pick up the final shopping and say our goodbyes. The emotional distress along with the stress of getting everything in order so we can leave is utterly exhausting. On top of that there are excited family and friends waiting to see us, after years apart, trying to get time in our diaries before we have left Singapore. We will need some time to recover, not only from the jet lag, but from the exhaustion of the move, physically, mentally and emotionally, before we hit the ground running and can greet everyone with the excitement and love they deserve. It’s an exciting adventure waiting very soon – just give us a breathing space first!