SINGAPORE will ease COVID travel testing rules and launch new vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) with the Philippines and Israel as it woos more tourists and seeks to reclaim its status of one of Asia’s major travel hubs. Shares of the city-state’s aviation-related stocks rose.

The city-state also will start previously announced VTLs from Feb. 25 with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — major transit hubs in their own right — and Saudi Arabia, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said in a statement Wednesday. The lanes with the Philippines and Israel will start March 4.

At the same time, rules for travelers from Hong Kong were tightened slightly: Singapore downgraded the financial hub’s status because of its own outbreak, but will open a travel lane so vaccinated travelers from Hong Kong can still enter without quarantining.

Singapore has been seeking to revive its status as an aviation hub after starting travel lanes with more than 20 countries including the US, UK and France last year, and refrained from closing them completely even when the omicron variant sent case numbers soaring. Regional rivals including Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai remain largely closed to international visitors as those places seek to keep imported infections low.

Flagship carrier Singapore Airlines had said in a statement Wednesday that it will expand its vaccinated travel-lane network to 47 cities in coming weeks, adding hubs like Dubai and Hong Kong. It also will increase the frequency of flights on several existing routes.

In a briefing to reporters, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung signaled that the country was prepared to reopen even further after the Omicron wave has passed, potentially allowing any vaccinated travelers to come to Singapore without quarantine.

In other measures outlined Wednesday, people coming to Singapore via the travel lanes and from low-risk countries like mainland China no longer will need to pay for polymerase chain reaction tests on arrival. Instead, they’ll take a supervised, rapid test, the Ministry of Health said in a separate statement.

Also to be scrapped is a requirement for travelers to self-administer tests for seven days after arrival if they want to go outside. The risk-classification system for countries will also be simplified, with travelers from countries with higher infection numbers having to serve seven days of quarantine starting Feb. 22.

The raft of travel initiatives may help revive air-passenger traffic to Singapore, which has remained subdued: Some 330,000 international visitors came to the island in 2021, compared to 19.1 million in 2019 before the global pandemic.

Singapore’s central bank last month flagged the cost of testing for international travel as a driver of inflation, along with food and fuel prices. The on-arrival PCR tests that have been required until now cost S$125 ($93), significantly more than their rapid counterparts, which cost just S$15 and are widely available. — Bloomberg