Singapore, Hong Kong to relaunch travel bubble on May 26

SINGAPORE: Singapore and Hong Kong have agreed to set May 26 as the launch date for the travel bubble, both cities announced on Monday (April 26).

More stringent conditions for the recovery of the tourism bubble will be introduced. This includes travellers who must remain in Singapore or Hong Kong in the last 14 days prior to departure, excluding any period of quarantine or stay-at-home notices.

Hong Kong also requires its residents to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before flying, with the exception of children and those who are unfit for vaccination for medical reasons.

Passengers from Singapore must download and install Hong Kong’s LeaveHomeSafe app before departure.

If the 7-day moving average of unlinked community cases in either city increases above 5, the travel bubble will be suspended. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said it will only resume once the COVID-19 situation stabilizes.

The travel bubble was supposed to start in November last year, but it was delayed due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong.

Under the travel bubble, there are no restrictions on the purpose of travel and no requirements for controlled itineraries or sponsorships. Visitors are required to take a COVID-19 swab test before departure and upon arrival and travel on selected flights operated by Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

Singapore’s Ministry of Transport (MOT) said: “Hong Kong’s COVID-19 situation has improved, with few locally unlinked COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks. Community cases in Singapore have been low.”

“As a result, the risk profile of the two cities is now similar.”

The ministry said that between now and May 26, both cities will closely monitor the COVID-19 situation and will proceed with the launch “if the situation in both cities continues to be stable and under control.”

READ: Hong Kong enforces COVID-19 regulations 23 times to stop airlines from landing in city, including Singapore Airlines flights

Travel bubble starts ‘cautious’

The transport ministry said the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble would start “prudently” with daily departures in each direction.

Passengers are capped at 200 per flight, and numbers are reviewed after the first two weeks.

Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the travel bubble was a major move between Asia’s two aviation and financial services hubs.

“I’m glad Hong Kong has brought the COVID-19 situation under control,” he said.

“A few months have passed, but the conditions are now ripe for the restart of the ATB (air travel bubble). Both sides need to be on high alert for the next month so that we can launch the first flights smoothly.”

READ: Over 18,200 people visited Singapore through unilateral border opening; 70% from China

The goal is to strike a balance between public health and travel convenience, said Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau.

Yau Tenghua said: “The re-launch of ATB not only meets the expectations of citizens and the business community for cross-border travel, but also marks that the gradual recovery of cross-border travel can be achieved through mutual cooperation between different places.”

Not sure “everything will be smooth sailing”: ONG

Mr Wang told reporters on Monday that the restart of the travel bubble was set on May 26 for a number of reasons.

Hong Kong requires sufficient time for residents to be vaccinated before travel. The lead time also gives the industry and travelers more time to prepare, he said.

Mr Ong said Singapore would ensure COVID-19 infections were kept at “very, very low levels”.

“You can’t say for sure that everything will be smooth sailing,” he said when asked if the recent spate of COVID-19 transmissions in Singapore could lead to another delay in the bubble.

He noted that “stop-start situations” have become the norm for such travel arrangements.

One of the factors that causes the travel bubble to stop is if the 7-day moving average of unlinked community cases in any city increases to more than 5.

For Singapore, the figure excludes cases in migrant worker dormitories, where more than 90 per cent of Singapore’s coronavirus cases were seen last year.

READ: Westlite Woodlands hostel takes steps after 17 recovered workers test positive for COVID-19 again

When asked why this was the case, Mr Ong replied that the risk of unlinked COVID-19 cases in the community was much higher than in dormitories.

“In a dormitory, it’s a different environment. You can lock down a dormitory. In a community, you can’t lock down a town. You can’t lock down Toa Payoh, you can’t lock down Ang Mo Kio,” he said.

He noted that the dormitories are under “very strict surveillance”, noting movement restrictions on migrant workers and regular testing for COVID-19.

While Hong Kong requires its residents to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before travelling to Singapore, there is no similar requirement for tourists from Singapore.

Mr Wang said Hong Kong’s vaccination requirements were an “additional incentive” to vaccinate its residents, while Singapore’s vaccination rates had so far been good.

Instead, the priority for reopening travel is that the destinations that Singapore cooperates with are “safe,” he said.

Mr Wang said places where Singapore has unilaterally opened its borders – such as Australia, Brunei, China, New Zealand and Taiwan – are “natural partners” for a future travel bubble.

He noted that Taiwanese authorities are currently studying Singapore’s proposal for such a bubble, as well as mutual recognition of vaccination certificates.

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