HongKong

Newport travel corridor plan still up in the air after months of delays

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HONG KONG – A plan to rebrand a quarantine-free travel corridor between Hong Kong and Singapore has hit another snag after months of delays.

The arrangement, previously dubbed the “air travel bubble”, was supposed to be released on Tuesday (July 13) but was canceled at the last minute on Monday, The Straits Times understands.

Under the updated agreement, both Singapore and Hong Kong will make full vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory for passengers traveling on selected flights.

But the plan is now up in the air after some Hong Kong lawmakers urged on Friday to scrap the agreement.

With Singapore abandoning Hong Kong’s highly regarded zero-infection strategy, members of the Legislative Council, including Ms Mak Li-li and Mr Tian Beichen of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, have urged the government to scrap the scheme.

They argue that zero coronavirus cases is a requirement for Hong Kong to reopen its border with mainland China.

Singapore is transitioning from treating Covid-19 as a pandemic to endemic management, with the government aiming to vaccinate two-thirds of the country’s 5.7 million population by early August.

As of last Saturday, about 69% of Singapore residents had received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, more than double the figure two months earlier. Meanwhile, 40% of Singapore residents have received two doses of the vaccine and completed the course.

The rationale for the shift in strategy is that the virus is here to stay and society will have to live with it. But with vaccination, the rate of transmission of the virus would drop and, more importantly, fewer people would become seriously ill after infection.

The Bureau of Commerce and Economic Development replied to ST that “the governments of the two countries have been maintaining communication and reviewing the epidemic situation in the two places.”

It added that if there are further arrangements, an announcement will be made in due course.

“Singapore and Hong Kong are continuing discussions and will provide an update in due course,” a spokesman for Singapore’s Ministry of Transport said in response to media inquiries on Tuesday.

Leung Chi-chiu, a respiratory disease expert at the Hong Kong Medical Association, said that while Hong Kong cannot close its borders forever, the key question is when and how to reopen.

“Whether we can reopen with Singapore depends on whether there is a net import risk from Hong Kong. If Singapore is to drop its zero transmission policy and face the risk of the spread of local Delta variants, the answer may be obvious,” he said.

Dr Leung points to two reasons.

First of all, the Delta variant is highly transmissible, and it has rebounded exponentially in countries with high vaccination coverage such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, indicating that there is a qualitative difference between no source of infection and a small number of sources of infection.

The latter could turn into a devastating wave within weeks, he said.

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