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Coronavirus

Singapore races to become Southeast Asia's vaccine distribution hub

Changi Airport adds cold storage capacity to capture transport demand

By facilitating vaccine distribution, Changi Airport seeks to spur cargo traffic and the eventual return of passengers. (Photo courtesy of Changi Airport Group)

TOKYO -- Singapore Changi Airport seeks to become the coronavirus vaccine distribution hub for Southeast Asia, boosting its cold storage capacity and forming a task force to oversee the project.

The Changi Ready Task Force is a consortium of 18 companies and groups, including Singapore's Civil Aviation Authority and the airport's operator, Changi Airport Group. Its mission is to upgrade facilities with the aim of enhancing coordination across the entire industry and smoothing out the process of delivering COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccine cargo deliveries would help prop up the local airline industry depressed by a lack of air traffic following border closures to stem the spread of the pandemic. It is also anticipated that vaccine distribution will do its part to bring back passengers.

In recent years, Changi has poured resources into the business of delivering medical products. Companies have already laid down capital expenditure in this pursuit independently.

Changi will serve as a delivery hub for vaccines coming from regions such as the U.S. and Europe. Two vaccines coming to the market soon require extremely cold temperatures for storage. The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine must be stored at minus 70 C, while the vaccine developed by Moderna also must be stored at minus 20 C.

The vaccines will be distributed in Southeast Asia and Oceania, according to Changi Airport Group. This arrangement will support outlying cities in Southeast Asia that lag in developing logistic infrastructure.

Task force member Dubai National Air Transport Association, or Dnata, the ground handling company owned by carrier Emirates Group, developed a specialized vehicle for transporting vaccine-filled containers from the aircraft to warehouses in temperature-controlled environments. The company deployed two such vehicles to Changi Airport last month.

Both Dnata and SATS -- a fellow cargo handler and task force member -- have warehouses at Changi capable of holding products in temperatures as low as minus 25 C. Such warehouses cover 9,000 sq. meters in total, and they can process 375,000 tons of cold storage products annually.

Several other warehouses operated by logistics companies can be found in the customs bond area neighboring the airport.

Changi has grown to be the quintessential Asian hub connecting Western and Asian travelers to their destinations. But the pandemic caused countries around the world to impose border controls, and passenger traffic has plunged since March.

Once vaccines are distributed, air travel will rebound, which will lead to the recovery of passenger traffic, said Lim Ching Kiat, managing director for Changi Airport Group.

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