Hong Kong, Singapore travel bubble popped

The decision is both a blow to the two cities’ battered tourist industries

By   |  Published: 22nd Nov 2020  5:43 pm

Hong Kong: A planned travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore was scrapped a day before its launch on Saturday after the southern Chinese city announced a sudden spike in coronavirus cases. The two financial hubs have both suffered comparatively mild outbreaks with strict social distancing and border measures imposed soon after the pandemic first emerged. But with small populations and a heavy dependence on links to the outside world they have been hard hit as the global economy collapsed.

Desperate to help their key tourism and aviation sectors, they came up with the plan allowing limited, quarantine-free travel between the cities as long as visitors test negative for Covid-19. The travel corridor was set to kick off on Sunday morning. But on Saturday, Hong Kong announced the scheme would have to be delayed for two weeks following a sudden rise in coronavirus infections.

“In the light of recent surge of local cases we have decided, together with the Singapore government, to defer the air travel bubble’s launch by two weeks,” commerce secretary Edward Yau told reporters. After weeks of single-digit infections, Hong Kong health authorities have begun reporting a sudden uptick in cases in recent days. On Saturday they recorded 36 local coronavirus cases. Crucially, 13 were from unknown transmission sources, prompting fears the city has a new wave of out-of-control infections.

Both Hong Kong and Singapore agreed that seven straight days of five or more unknown transmission cases would be enough to halt the travel bubble. But Saturday’s double-digit spike was enough for authorities in both cities to postpone the travel bubble. “This is a sober reminder that the Covid-19 virus is still with us, and even as we fight to regain our normal lives, the journey will be full of ups and downs,” Singapore transport minister Ong Ye Kung wrote on his Facebook page.

The planned travel bubble, which could still go ahead if infections drop, is strict. A maximum of 200 residents from each city will be able to travel on one daily flight to the other, with only those who have been in Singapore and Hong Kong for two weeks and tested negative allowed to board. Arriving passengers will have to test negative again, and all the health checks could add substantial extra cost to a trip.