Returning from Singapore to Japan

Here I am, back in Tokyo after a 3-month stay in Singapore due to the COVID-19 situation. It was indeed a one-in-a-lifetime experience. We could have stayed in Tokyo but we made the choice to go to Singapore thinking the situation might be easier to manage there.

End of Circuit Breaker

We were practically staying at home 24-7 for the whole of the Circuit Breaker period, but when I finally had to go out for a haircut before returning to Japan, I realise that the world has really changed into a “new norm”.

View of ION Orchard from the bus
Orchard Road on a Sunday
People with some social distancing
An empty Takashiyama shopping centre

Booking the return flight

We have arrived in Singapore on 3rd March 2020, with the return flight on 30th May 2020. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 situation, our return flight was automatically cancelled. At that point, we were not sure about the return date, given the unstable situation in Japan too.

It wasn’t an easy experience trying to make sure we were updated with the situation in both Singapore and Japan. When the state of emergency is lifted in Japan, and more flights start to resume, we made the decision to return to Tokyo in mid-June.

From Singapore to Narita

And so our day-long travel begins at 3:30am, riding the taxi to Changi Airport, in order to catch out 6:10am flight. I made an advanced booking via Grab a week in advance with no confirmation of drivers in the previous day of our flight, so I had to cancel and make another booking via the Comfort app. I’m glad it got confirmed immediately, and the taxi driver was professional to ensure that there is enough space for two passengers with two large suitcases plus two carry-on baggages.

At Changi Airport

The roads were empty in the early morning of Singapore. We arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 1 Departure Hall earlier than expected. At the check-in counter, the lady was double-checking about my visa status in Japan because of the travel restrictions. Before we even decide to book our return flight, we have double-checked our arrival date of 3rd March in Singapore did not clash with any points of the travel restrictions to Japan.

A very empty Changi Airport Terminal 1

SATS airport lounge

We were entitled to use the airport lounge, though not the usual SilverKris lounge. We had some simple snacks and drinks considering it’s still around 4am-ish. At the lounge, although there were no social distancing signs around, everyone was conscious of choosing a further seat from others.

SATS airport lounge

As the time passes, more and more travellers entered the lounge, so we decided to leave past 5am and proceed to the boarding gate. It was difficult trying to find open toilets in the airport common area. We managed to find one near our boarding gate at D40.

Crowded boarding gate

We weren’t expecting many passengers considering the travel restrictions to Japan but it seems like there were many transit passengers. It was puzzling to see families, parents with young children when we thought maybe there will be more solo travellers going to Japan for some kind of work trip. There were some form of social distancing signs as well as “do not sit” stickers on the seats.

Little social distancing on board

We took care to select our seats on the flight away from others when we booked our return flight, so imagine our surprise when we have passengers right in the front of us. But there were hardly any other seats we can move to, considering that every row has a few seats occupied. Consoling ourselves that there was no one behind us, we stick to the original seats.

7-hour flight

All cabin attendants have their masks, googles and gloves on while serving the passengers. Flight meals were served but the portion is less than usual, no salad or dessert. We were curious about the other passengers and asked a cabin attendant if everyone is going to enter Japan. Apparently that’s not the case. Many were in fact going to transit in Japan, and further travel to Canada or USA. The cabin attendant seems genuinely happy to have a conversation with us answering our questions while we co-share some unspoken fears.

In mid-flight

Coronavirus related paperwork

All flights to Tokyo are now only accessible via Narita Airport, and from there, you need to either arrange a hotel or private hire car or some friends/relatives to pick you up. You cannot travel via public transport and there are procedures to follow.

We were handed a couple of papers to fill in during our flight, and we have to submit these papers to the officers at the airport. There was a questionnaire to fill in, some privacy policy agreement paper to sign, some instructions for us to add the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare as a “friend” on LINE, so that we can keep in touch with the authorities.

COVID-19 questionnaire

Landed in Narita Airport

We landed at Narita around 2pm local time. It marks the start of our long wait to get out of the airport. We waited in the aircraft for around 30 minutes before they can let us out in batches based on the passengers’ travel purposes. The transit passengers left first, and we were in the next batch.

A rather empty airport area
Moving towards the waiting area

Social distancing is to be practised at all times, and there are officers to lead us to the waiting area where we have to wait for the next step of submitting our papers and getting some clarification questions from officers. We waited around 45 minutes before we can move to the questioning booth and PCR test.

Waiting area

Questioning booths

We were redirected to the booths where there will be officers to ask some questions and also go through the notes and papers. Because I was travelling with my husband, we could go to the same booth as a group.

There were only 5-6 booths available, and there were passengers from a separate UA flight before us, so they have to clear those passengers and de-sanitise the tables before the passengers from our flight can proceed. It was at this moment when the officers communicated and I discovered that there were a total of 50 passengers on our flight.

The officer at our booth was fumbling through the papers and asking us some questions to double check our route to return home from the airport, and also to confirm our stay-home quarantine period.

Note of confirmation

The PCR swab test

I have read about how the PCR swab test hurts, and it’s something similar to what the doctor does when they have to test you for influenza. I was infected with influenza twice in the past, and I knew the procedure of having cotton buds stuck deep into my nose, and it was a very uncomfortable feeling. But the PCR swab test seems worse. Though quick, it hurts! It feels like someone is trying to poke your eye from the nose.

Paper received during PCR swab test

Immigration area

By the time, we finished the PCR swab test, it was around 3:20pm. We proceed to the immigration area. My husband could pass the immigration as swiftly as before, but for me, I was directed to a room where they need to do some processing. It took around 30 minutes, and I was passed on more papers to sign.

Flow of immigration approval

Getting out of the airport

Once I have cleared my immigration, a quarantine officer is asked to accompany me to the baggage pick-up area where my husband is already waiting. The same officer has to accompany us out of the airport to ensure that we were not trying to run around the airport area. At this point, it was 4pm when we finally left the airport.

Empty airport bus lanes
Walking to our hired car

We headed straight to the hired car that we booked via Raku-raku Taxi where the driver picked us up, and confirmed our destination. Payment can be done by credit card. It costs us 30,000JPY for this exclusive ride back home.

Home Sweet Home

We arrived at home around 5:30pm to tons of letters in our mailbox, some mold in the toilet, and a very dusty balcony. But we were glad to be home and thankful for the support given throughout our trip home. For the next 14 days, we were required to stay home for our quarantine, and our PCR swab test results should be shared via our given email address within the next 2-3 days. Fingers crossed!

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