Hong Kong-Singapore tourism bubble launched as scheduled

Commuters scan a security entrance QR code to enter a shopping mall in Singapore on Monday. (Photo by Reuters)

Hong Kong: Hong Kong will launch a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore on May 26 as scheduled, despite sporadic local coronavirus infections, Hong Kong’s commerce minister said.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau reassured Hong Kong on Wednesday as two new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed.

One involved a domestic worker from the Philippines, and the other involved a 42-year-old man who was linked to a local cluster of mutant infections caused by a 30-year-old engineer from Dubai.

Yau said the city’s seven-day moving average of unlinked local cases was below 1, while in Singapore it was between 1.6 and 1.8.

“These figures are well below the established threshold to trigger a pause in the bubble. We will be watching closely to see if the situation gets worse,” Yau told reporters after the Legislative Council meeting.

Under terms agreed upon by both parties, the program would be suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of unlinked infections in either city exceeded five cases.

Under the arrangement, one daily flight carrying 200 passengers will be allowed in each direction. If the coronavirus situation remains stable, the frequency will increase to twice a day from June 10, but transit passengers will not be permitted.

Anyone, regardless of nationality, currently residing in Singapore or Hong Kong will be eligible.

The Hong Kong government only allows fully vaccinated residents to travel as an extra safety precaution, while Singapore does not impose this requirement on its own travelers.

Those under the age of 16 who are advised by a doctor not to be vaccinated or who leave the country with travel documents other than Hong Kong passports are exempt from vaccination.

Cases in Singapore have risen sharply in the past few weeks, with 11 active clusters after months of zero infections. The closest clusters include one at the city-state’s airport and another at one of its largest hospitals.

Several worrisome variants, such as the B.1.617 strain, which was first identified in India and thought to be more transmissible, were also found in local and imported infections, authorities said.

The country has recorded 88 cases of local transmission this month, compared with 55 in April and just nine in March.

This comes even as more and more residents are vaccinated against the coronavirus. Singapore’s Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday that slightly more than a fifth of the state’s 5.7 million people, or 1.2 million people, have been fully vaccinated, while about 1.8 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Singapore, whose vaccination program is only open to those over 45, now has one of the highest vaccination rates in Asia, surpassing Hong Kong, where only 14.7% of residents had been vaccinated at least once as of Saturday.

Asked at a news conference last week whether the rise in Singapore’s domestic cases would affect the travel bubble, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the virus task force, said the suspension of travel arrangements would still depend on the seven-two cities. The daily moving average of unrelated cases in all cases exceeded 5.

As of Wednesday, Singapore’s seven-day average of unlinked cases was 1.86.

Separately, Wong told parliament that Singapore was “on a knife’s edge” and that the number of community cases “may change in the next few weeks”.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong is 11,814, with 210 related deaths.

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