Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble delayed amid rise in Hong Kong’s coronavirus cases

Singapore Airlines crew members at Changi International Airport in Singapore on Oct. 24, 2020.
Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore and Hong Kong have postponed their air travel bubble agreement for two weeks.

The announcement came hours after Singapore said the agreement, which was set to take effect on Sunday, would go ahead as planned despite a rise in new coronavirus cases in Hong Kong.

“This is to safeguard public health in both cities as well as travellers’ own health,” Singapore’s aviation authority said in a media release announcing the delay.

Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, Edward Yau, said the delay “is necessary to avoid any inconvenience caused by the abrupt changes of the scheme to passengers.”

The situation will be reviewed and a new launch date will be provided in December.

Hong Kong reported Saturday that the number of new daily cases jumped to 43 — up from 26 a day earlier. Many of the cases were local infections. The city has so far recorded more than 5,500 cases and 108 deaths, according to the government’s website.

Travel authorities from both sides have always said the deal would be suspended if the Covid-19 situation in either city deteriorates.

The Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble agreement was initially due to start on Nov. 22 with a single flight daily into each city, limited to a maximum of 200 passengers per flight.

Under the arrangement — the first for both destinations since the pandemic — the number of flights will increase only if the spread of Covid-19 in both cities remains under control.

Earlier Saturday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore announced that all arriving passengers from Hong Kong would be required to take an additional Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test upon arrival. They would also need to self-isolate in their place of residence — be it a hotel or home — as they wait for the results which will take about six to eight hours, the aviation authority said.

To be clear, all passengers from Hong Kong under the air travel bubble agreement would have already been required to take a pre-departure Covid-19 PCR test and obtain a negative test result before departing for Singapore.

The initial air travel bubble agreement announced on Nov. 11 did not require any isolation of passengers from Hong Kong upon arrival.

Hong Kong’s ‘new wave’

Hong Kong imposed new restrictions on Saturday as the city saw a resurgence in the number of cases this past week. Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said Friday the situation was “severe.”

“We have probably entered into a new wave of cases,” she said at a press briefing on Friday, citing experts from the Centre for Health Protection.

The government met late Friday to finalize other contingency measures aimed at stemming the spread of the virus, and will not rule out more stringent restrictions, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a Facebook post.

New restrictions include the banning of clubs and party rooms, as well as prohibiting live performances and dancing in bars and pubs. The government announced earlier this week that primary schools will be suspended for two weeks from Monday.

Much-anticipated deal

The agreement was highly anticipated and hailed as a “milestone” by the Singapore government, as the two cities sought to revive the aviation sector. Both Asian financial hubs were badly hit by the crisis as they have no domestic demand for flights.

According to travel operator Klook, other countries were closely watching the success of the deal.

Eric Gnock Fah, the chief operating officer of the bookings platform, told CNBC last week that tourism authorities across Asia were watching to see if the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble succeeded, amid hopes of eventually making their own plans for such arrangements.

“Many of the other tourism boards around Asia have been very active coming to us to discuss about the plans that they have put in place,” he told CNBC before the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble was suspended.

Searches for the two destinations surged more than eight times when the announcement was initially made, he said.

— CNBC’s Karen Gilchrist contributed to this report.

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