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A Singapore Airlines plane waits to depart at Changi International Airport. Photo: AFP

Beijing 2022 Olympics: Singapore to serve as aviation hub for athletes, delegates

  • Singapore Airlines will operate daily flights for Singaporean and foreign athletes and officials from January 21 to March 16
  • The announcement came as Singapore officials signed 14 new deals with largest trade partner China, from the areas of finance to cooperation in green development
Singapore will play the role of a “connecting hub” during the Beijing Winter Olympics by ferrying athletes and delegates from the region to the Chinese capital, officials on Wednesday said, amid growing uncertainty over the Games given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant globally.
Transport minister S. Iswaran said that while air connectivity between China and Singapore stood at about 3 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the Winter Games would be a “good opportunity” for the two countries to enhance people-to-people exchanges.

“Singapore Airlines will be operating chartered flights through Changi Airport as a connecting hub for the region,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Chinese officials had earlier flagged Singapore as one of the few places where temporary and chartered flights could operate from to bring athletes into China for the event. Other cities include Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.

Is China’s zero-Covid strategy up to the Omicron, Winter Olympics challenges?

Singapore Airlines, responding to This Week In Asia’s queries, confirmed that it would operate daily flights for Singaporean and foreign athletes and officials from January 21 to March 16.

While details of the flight arrangement remain scant, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the cooperation demonstrated “the value of working together to facilitate safe cross-border travel”.

He noted, during a meeting with Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng ahead of the 17th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), that Singapore was working with the Civil Aviation Administration of China to ensure “smooth charter flight operations” for the Games.

Workers prepare a venue bearing the Olympic flame of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo: Reuters
The Beijing Winter Olympics, set to begin in February next year, has been hit by a US-led diplomatic boycott over human rights concerns. Britain, Australia and Canada have joined the US, while Japan has said it will not send a government delegation to the Games, without labelling the move a boycott. Germany will also not send ministers to Beijing for the Games, and Berlin is liaising with its allies in Europe on an overall diplomatic boycott.

Beijing has repeatedly urged the US to stop “politicising” sport, calling the boycott a “farce”.

There have also been questions over how the global surge in Covid-19 cases linked to the more-transmissible Omicron variant could affect the Games. Organisers have earlier announced the implementation of a “closed loop” – a bubble encompassing living quarters, competition venues and training venues – but analysts are expecting stricter measures than ever seen before.

China, one of few countries that are still sticking to a zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19, has detected nine Omicron cases so far.

Covid-19 policy keeps Japanese families apart in lead-up to Beijing Games

Apart from the Winter Games, Singapore also lauded strong ties with China, its largest trading partner, during the JCBC meeting on Wednesday – the highest-level annual bilateral forum.

Some 14 deals were signed at the virtual meeting this year, up from 10 in last year’s edition, in the fields of finance, competition law and urban governance and planning, among others. The two countries would also expand cooperation in new areas, including in the digital economy and green development.

Heng, the deputy prime minister who co-chaired the event with China’s Han, said the record number of agreements signed reflected the “strong foundation” of bilateral cooperation over the years, according to local media.

Chinese state-run media Xinhua, meanwhile, quoted Han as saying that China and Singapore, as close neighbours and partners, enjoyed mutual political understanding and trust.

China’s Vice-Premier Han Zheng and Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. Photos: Xinhua

Heng also told Singapore media that he had conveyed to Han that many Singaporeans were hoping to resume air travel with China. “I hope that when China is ready to resume cross-border travel, Singapore will be among the first countries with which China restores greater connectivity,” he said.

“I am glad to hear that Vice-Premier Han had expressed support for the safe assumption of cross-border travel between Singapore and China, in accordance with both countries’ respective health protocols, and for our officials on both sides to intensify discussions on this front.”

Singapore has unilaterally allowed travellers from China to enter without needing to serve a quarantine since November last year but Chinese nationals have been strongly dissuaded from travelling abroad unless necessary.

Iswaran, the transport minister, noting that air travel between the two countries was significantly lower compared to before the pandemic, said he had emphasised the city state’s keenness to restore air travel during the meeting with Chinese officials. The Chinese government, he said, responded “positively”.