Hong Kong may be in the grip of a fourth Covid-19 wave following a spike in infections, but the travel bubble with Singapore, which is scheduled to be launched tomorrow, remains intact.
The Straits Times understands the first few flights under a travel bubble arrangement between Hong Kong and Singapore, announced in mid-October, are expected to proceed as planned for now.
Under the deal, the travel bubble will be suspended for two weeks 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 latest moving average for the territory is 2.14 based on a method used by both Hong Kong and Singapore with data from the Centre for Health Protection, sources told The Straits Times. The number of infections today will be crucial in determining if the threshold is breached.
The Hong Kong Tourism Commission, in a response to ST, said the travel bubble can be adjusted any time by either increasing or reducing designated flights, or suspending them altogether. If the threshold of five is breached, the travel bubble "will be suspended in two days' time (including the day on which the figure was announced) for two weeks".
"The two governments will notify the airlines and make the relevant announcement," it said, adding that if the figure stayed under five for both cities on the last day of the suspension, the travel bubble could resume the next day.
The tourism commission added that in the event of a suspension of the bubble, Singapore citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders can return to Singapore from Hong Kong by non-bubble flights, but they will be subject to Singapore quarantine arrangements such as seven-day stay-home notice.
Hong Kong added 26 confirmed cases yesterday, of which 21 were local and the rest imported. This brings the tally of total cases in the territory to 5,517 and 108 deaths.
The new cases comprised different clusters, involving taxi drivers, hotel stays and dance studios, with the health authorities disclosing that preliminary tests found at least 40 people to be positive.
"We are now doing our best and before this severe situation started, in the past week, we had already tightened many of our measures, including border control measures, quarantine measures, hotel regulation measures, and also some of the social distancing measures," Health Secretary Sophia Chan said yesterday. She disclosed that high-risk groups such as taxi drivers and nursing home staff, as well as patients who exhibit symptoms similar to Covid-19 when visiting doctors, must undergo testing for the virus.
Last Saturday, the government moved to tighten social distancing rules after detecting clusters among cabbies and at a Lantau resort. And in measures that started on Monday and will last until Nov 26, dine-in services will end two hours earlier at midnight, with patrons per table capped at four, down from six. In bars and pubs, that number has been halved to two.
Questions over S'pore-HK flights
The Singapore and Hong Kong governments are in close contact on whether the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble will proceed as planned, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said yesterday.
Some members of the public have asked if the inaugural air bubble flights tomorrow will proceed, given that Hong Kong recorded 26 Covid-19 cases yesterday and the city's Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan described the situation as severe, said CAAS.
In response to media queries, the authority said that it is working closely with the Ministry of Health to gather the facts and "will update the public shortly" on whether the inaugural flights under the air travel bubble will proceed tomorrow.
Given the popularity of staycations as borders remain shut, officials will soon impose a maximum of four guests in each room at resorts, hotels and guesthouses - the same limit as public gatherings in the territory.
Separately, the government is dealing with an upper respiratory tract infection outbreak in schools.
Eight cases have been reported in eight primary schools, and Professor Chan said yesterday that from Monday, in-person classes for lower primary school levels (Standards 1 to 3) would be suspended for two weeks. She said classes at all schools may be cancelled if the situation worsens.
The decision came just over a week after kindergartens were ordered to close for two weeks due to upper respiratory tract infections.
"As the transmission routes of upper respiratory tract infections and Covid-19 are similar, if Covid-19 spreads at schools, the risk posed to the community is very high," Prof Chan said.