Tour plans hit after Italy's surprise ban on tourists from Singapore
Travel agents have postponed or cancelled plans to organise tours to Italy, after a surprise ban on leisure travellers from Singapore started on Thursday.
The Italian Embassy in Singapore said on Wednesday that its Health Ministry has moved Singapore and Brunei to a list of countries deemed to be at higher risk of Covid-19 infections.
Travellers from countries on the list may enter Italy only for work, health or study reasons, out of absolute urgency or to return to their homes. But tourists are banned.
Exemptions may be granted in specific cases, such as if the tourist is a citizen of a European Union member state or has a partner living in Italy.
The embassy said that those who are still allowed to enter Italy must self-isolate for 10 days at a declared address.
Travellers from Singapore will still be able to transit through Italy's airports to other destinations, provided they do not exit designated areas within the airports.
These restrictions will stay in place till Jan 31 next year.
The embassy did not specify Italy's reasons for changing Singapore's Covid-19 risk classification.
Mr Mario Vattani, Italy's Ambassador to Singapore, disagreed with Italy's move in comments published on the embassy's website.
He reportedly told news agency Adnkronos: "It's a mistake. Here in Singapore, cases are now at a minimum level. Almost 100 per cent of the population is vaccinated.
"I want to believe that... (the tougher travel restrictions on Singapore) are the result of a clerical error or a typo."
He also noted that the Omicron Covid-19 variant is practically absent in Singapore. Attempts by The Straits Times to contact the embassy were unsuccessful.
Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it will contact customers on upcoming flights to Italy to notify them of the new travel restrictions.
Customers who have booked tickets directly with SIA can seek a refund. SIA also advised those who have made bookings through travel agents or partner airlines to contact their travel agent or purchasing airline for assistance.
SIA added that it will continue to operate vaccinated travel lane (VTL) flights from Italy to Singapore.
Singapore began a VTL with Italy on Oct 19, restoring two-way quarantine-free travel between the two countries. Italy had opened up to Singapore earlier.
As Singapore's VTL with Italy is unilateral, Italy's latest move will not immediately affect quarantine-free entry from the country into the Republic. This means eligible travellers who are currently in Italy will still be able to use the VTL to enter Singapore without having to self-isolate for days.
Their entry will be affected only if Singapore suspends the VTL.
Italy's move to ban Singapore tourists is the most significant setback so far for those looking for quarantine-free travel to countries under the VTL scheme.
No other country on this scheme that allows entry to Singapore travellers has barred them following the emergence of the Omicron variant late last month.
But several, such as Britain, have tightened testing requirements.
A spokesman for Chan Brothers Travel said the agency does not have any tour groups to Italy that will be affected by the new ban.
It has not received cancellation requests from customers booked on its tours to other VTL destinations.
Mr Ong Hanjie, a director at EU Holidays, said the agency has postponed a tour scheduled to depart for Italy on Jan 27 following the new entry restrictions.
It has 57 customers across three tour groups currently in Italy. They have flown to Italy before the tourist ban, and will all be spending at least one more week there.
"We are in constant contact with the groups in Italy now to help if there is a need for any travel changes," said Mr Ong.
"I am praying hard for them to complete the tour successfully... It's very stressful for travel agents now."