Hong Kong faces another Covid-19 wave; travel bubble with Singapore remains for now

Hong Kong had more than 30 preliminary positive cases on Nov 20. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong may be in the grip of a fourth Covid-19 wave with a spike in infections, but the travel bubble with Singapore - which is scheduled to be launched on Sunday (Nov 22) - remains intact.

The Straits Times understands that the first few flights under the 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 ST. The number of new infections on Saturday will be crucial in determining if the threshold is breached.

Hong Kong added 26 confirmed cases as of Friday, 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 Hong Kong Tourism Commission, in a response to ST, said that 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 can resume the next day.

The tourism commission added that in the event of a suspension of the travel 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 the seven-day stay-home notice.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, in response to public concerns about the possible impact on travel bubble arrangements, said in a media statement: "We are working closely with Singapore Ministry of Health to gather the facts, and will update the public shortly. The Singapore and Hong Kong Governments are in close contact on the situation."

The new cases in Hong Kong comprised different clusters, including taxi drivers, hotel stays and dance studios, with 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 have 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 on Friday.

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.

On Nov 14, the government moved to tighten social distancing rules after detecting clusters among cab drivers and at a Lantau resort.

From Nov 16 until Nov 26, dine-in services will end two hours earlier at midnight. The number of customers at eateries, which have to operate at half capacity instead of 75 per cent, are now capped at four at each table, down from six. In bars and pubs, that number has been halved to two.

Given the popularity of staycations as borders remain shut, officials are looking at imposing a maximum of four guests in each room at resorts, hotels and guesthouses - the same limit as public gatherings in the territory.

Prof Chan said on Friday details would be ironed out soon as the government had met stakeholders on Thursday night.

The government has also tightened visiting arrangements for those serving mandatory 14-day quarantine periods after returning from overseas.

Separately, the government is dealing with an upper respiratory tract infection outbreak in schools.

Eight cases have been reported in eight primary schools and Prof Chan said that from Nov 23, 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 worsened.

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.

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