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The last time I travelled overseas, it was back to the Philippines in April 2020 for my aunt’s wedding. But as soon after I returned, borders all around the world were beginning to close as Covid cases started to rise.

Covid has changed our lives in numerous ways, one of the main ones being the restrictions on travel. For many of us, we have not been able to meet our families overseas, having to adapt by only being able to see their faces on screen.

Meanwhile, overseas travel for leisure has slowed to a crawl, with many Singaporeans finding other ways of taking a break from the monotony of working from home without being able to travel.

Recently, vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) — which allows travellers to go in and out of Singapore without serving a stay-home notice — have been curtailed by the rise of the Omicron variant.

Even though it is not immediately clear if additional measures are needed to deal with this new, more easily transmissible variant, experts warn that curbs on social gatherings and travel would be the most effective.

Today (Dec 3), Singapore will start tighter border restrictions such as self-administered antigen rapid tests (ARTs) and Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for all travellers arriving here.

Some travellers have been spooked by the new variant and industry players have warned that year-end travel plans may be affected.

Nevertheless, for many in Singapore, the relaxation of border controls before Omicron reared its ugly head meant that they were able to plan trips to reunite with family here and abroad.

Mark and Leriz: A long awaited break

VTL Germany
Mark Blank and his wife Leriz spent two weeks in Germany when the VTL there first opened. Image source: Leriz Fan Blank

When the VTL to Germany opened up in early Sept, Singaporean Leriz Fan Blank, 32, and her husband Mark decided to take a two-week holiday there.

“It wasn’t the first choice on our list,” explains Mark, 33, a Russian-born Israeli citizen who has been working in Singapore for the past seven years, “but after two years of Covid, we really needed a break.”

“It was a chance to meet up with some friends who live in Germany,” adds Leriz.

VTL Overseas Friends
The couple managed to catch up with overseas friends. Image source: Leriz Fan Blank

The couple got married in 2019, although they haven’t been able to move forward with a traditional wedding ceremony.

Says Leriz: “We did the whole ROM thing, and we were supposed to get married on Aug 8, 2020, but unfortunately due to Covid, we pushed back our plans five times!”

The travel restrictions were tough. Explains Leriz: “In the past, we used to go back to Israel every year to visit Mark’s family but we haven’t seen them for the last two years.”

There is currently no VTL between Singapore and Israel, which means that anyone travelling between the two countries would have to go through a mandatory quarantine period.

Say Leriz: “I work in an office so I can continue to work even on SHN but since Mark runs his own business, he can’t afford to take a break. Any time out of the clinic means lost income for him.”

Mark runs a skincare clinic in Singapore.

So when the VTL to Germany opened up, the couple decided to go for it. The two-week holiday took them to Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin, where a third person made an unexpected appearance.

VTL Berlin
Mark’s mum (left) surprised the couple after she took a flight from their home country Israel to spend a day with them in Berlin. Image source: Leriz Fan Blank

“Mark’s mum took a four-hour flight from Israel to Berlin to spend a day with us,” laughs Leriz, “it was such a nice surprise, to be able to spend 24 hours with her!”

The couple returned to Singapore on Oct 14 and is now looking forward to finally having their traditional wedding ceremony here when things open up further.

Leriz, who is Cantonese, says: “I’m not Jewish so we are planning a simple dinner to celebrate our marriage in Israel but Mark’s parents and grandparents are very keen on flying to Singapore to attend our traditional tea ceremony.

“I’ll wear the kua and Mark will wear the traditional Tang suit. His grandparents keep telling us that it is important to keep our traditions alive!”

But without a VTL, having to undergo the rigours of air travel plus quarantine makes it unfeasible for Mark’s parents and grandparents to come to Singapore. That’s why the couple remain hopeful.

Says Leriz: “It would be a dream come true if a VTL opens up between Singapore and Israel!”

Priscilla and William: Flying back for their daughter’s wedding

VTL Singapore
Priscilla Lim (second from left), eating out with her husband William (far left) and friends.

Priscilla Lim, 61, is a Singaporean currently working and living in Melbourne.

She returned to Singapore with her husband William on Sept 23 to attend their eldest daughter Mavis’ wedding on Oct 10. As there was no VTL between Singapore and Australia at that time, the couple had to apply to return here, with one of the conditions being that they had to stay out of Melbourne for at least three months.

VTL Wedding
Priscilla’s daughter Mavis and son-in-law Zheng Xian. Image source: Priscilla Lim

“These three months away from home (Melbourne) have been quite difficult as I had to overcome heaps of obstacles to stay employed — to be able to work from Singapore and to organise issues on the home front,” Priscilla shares with The Pride.

“William had to take three months unpaid leave and have our routine disrupted.”

But despite these hurdles, she has taken the trip back as an opportunity to spend as much time with family and other loved ones in Singapore as possible.

VTL Melbourne
Priscilla playing pickleball. Image source: Priscilla Lim

“I play pickleball with my friends, catch up with friends and family and go for morning walks with my siblings (who live in Singapore),” she says.

The couple also got to celebrate both their birthdays with Mavis, 29, whom they have not been able to see in more than two years, and her husband Zheng Xian.

Laughs Priscilla: “I celebrated my husband’s birthday with delivery food while we were serving our stay-home notice! But we could celebrate my birthday with my new son-in-law and daughter.”

The couple are scheduled to return to Australia in January, but as travel restrictions relax, Priscilla says they were able to go back earlier than scheduled. The couple have booked a flight back to Australia on Dec 12, where they would have to serve a three-day SHN due to new restrictions as a result of the Omicron variant.

“Although it is nice to be spending extended time with Mavis and Zheng Xian here, nothing beats being in the comfort of our own home,” she explains.

They are excited to get back to their usual routine, not to mention get back with their other two children, Wilson, 25 and Mabel, 28, who live in Melbourne with them.

“I am excited to meet up with friends and colleagues face to face when I go back to Melbourne. I hope to introduce pickleball to them!”

John and Paloma: A chance to spend Christmas with UK family

VTL Singapore
Paloma (fourth from left) and John Lee with her family before travelling to Singapore. Image source: John Lee

When the VTL to the UK opened up in early October, it was a chance for Paloma Lee, 25, a British technology consultant, and her Singaporean husband John, 27, a teacher, to see friends and family for the first time in 15 months.

The couple had moved to Singapore last year when Covid first hit. Before the VTL, one of their main concerns living here was not knowing how long it would be before they could reunite with her family back in the UK.

“It’s one thing to wait several months before we can meet people in person, it’s another to have to wait indefinitely,” explains John.

Which is why when the news of the VTLs first came out, the couple had mixed emotions.

“We were so grateful that for the first time in 15 months, we could travel to see family,” says John. “At the same time, we were worried that we’d be disappointed if we got our hopes up only for restrictions to change in the future.”

VTL UK
Farewell dinner with Paloma’s family before moving to Singapore. Image source: John Lee

Fortunately, the couple were able to secure tickets to the UK. They left Singapore on Nov 26.

The couple plan to reunite with Paloma’s family in Surrey and meet some of their friends and former colleagues in London. They also plan to take a short trip to Oxford, the place where they met.

John says: “We’re excited to spend time with our family — not only spending quality time together but also just resting together, watching TV shows and eating food we’ve missed.”

“We’re also really excited to do a sort of early Christmas celebration with the family before we return to Singapore in mid-December.”

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Top Image: Leriz Fan Blank, Priscilla Lim, John Lee