Hong Kong and Singapore to start travel bubble next month

The bubble begins May 26 and will start with a daily flight into each city, with up to 200 travellers on board.

Since COVID-19 hit air travel, Hong Kong no longer has the busiest airport for international traffic in Asia [File: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg]

A long-delayed travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will begin on May 26, the two cities have said, as they move to re-establish overseas travel links and lift the hurdle of quarantine for visiting foreigners.

The bubble between two of Asia’s biggest financial hubs was slated to begin last November but was suspended after a spike in coronavirus cases in Hong Kong.

The scheme will start with one flight a day into each city, with up to 200 travellers on board, Hong Kong’s commerce secretary Edward Yau and Singapore’s transport minister Ong Ye Ku said at simultaneous media events.

Those wanting to travel from either city must test negative for COVID-19 before departure and on arrival. Hong Kong residents will only be able to fly to Singapore at least 14 days after they have had two doses of the COVID vaccine.

Travellers on the route – which attracted 15 to 20 flights a day each way before coronavirus – will not have to quarantine and there will be no restrictions on the purpose of travel. However, they should not have been anywhere other than Singapore or Hong Kong in the 14 days prior to departure.

However, if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases is more than five for either Singapore or Hong Kong, the scheme will be suspended, Yau and Ong said.

Travellers are also required to download and use the contact-tracing app of the country they are visiting. Both Hong Kong and Singapore have their own apps for this purpose.

“The re-launch … signifies that gradual resumption of cross-border travel is achievable through mutual collaborations among different places,” said Yau.

Other travel bubbles in the pipeline

Travellers must use the contact-tracing app of the country they are visiting [File: Lauryn Ishak/Bloomberg]

For Hong Kong, which has banned non-residents since March 2020, the deal with Singapore is its first bilateral resumption of travel ties with another city.

Eligible Hong Kong residents in mainland China and Macau will be exempt from quarantine in the Asian financial city from as early as this week, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said on Monday.

Singapore already has some agreements on essential business and official travel, has opened unilaterally to general visitors from countries including Brunei Darussalam, China and New Zealand and has been discussing an air travel bubble with Australia.

Both Hong Kong and Singapore said they are in talks with countries including New Zealand and Australia for similar travel bubbles. The Asian cities have brought the local virus situation largely under control compared with other developed cities.

New cases, however, have inched up in the past week, with Hong Kong reporting local transmission of a COVID variant with the N501Y mutated strain and Singapore investigating possible COVID reinfection cases at a migrant worker dormitory. The dormitories were at the centre of Singapore’s outbreak last year with thousands of cases.

“Both sides will need to stay very vigilant in the next one month so that we can launch the first flights smoothly,” said Singapore’s Ong.

Singapore work permit holders employed in construction, marine shipyard or process sectors, many of whom live in dormitories, are excluded from the bubble.

Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines would be the carriers for the initial flights, authorities said.

“To get this bubble up successfully, I think we’ll have a significant signalling effect to the rest of the world,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies