HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong and Singapore may announce as soon as Monday (April 26) a start to their highly anticipated two-way air travel bubble, according to people familiar with the matter, after multiple delays.
Flights under the agreement - which allows people to travel quarantine-free between the two financial hubs - will begin from May 26, said the people, who asked not to be identified as they are not authorised to speak publicly.
The number of flights will be increased by June 26 if there are no further outbreaks in either city, one of them said.
Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau will hold a briefing on the bubble at 11.30am local time Monday, the government said in a statement.
Hong Kong and Singapore have been working on the creation of a travel corridor for months after plans for a November start were shelved due to a virus flare-up in the Chinese territory.
A plan to announce its revival last week was also cancelled at the last minute by the Singapore side, people familiar with the matter said at the time.
The Hong Kong government said a discussion with Singapore on the re-launch “is at an advance stage and the government will make announcement as soon as practicable”.
Singapore's transport ministry referred Bloomberg News to its most recent press release on the matter.
Singapore last week said the two cities had not fixed a date to announce the resumption of the bubble, but “will do so once we are ready, hopefully very soon”.
While Covid-19 cases in the two places pale in comparison to many countries, strict requirements for the bubble to open meant outbreaks that would be regarded as small elsewhere were enough to halt progress.
Virus flare-ups in Hong Kong were the main reason for the months of delays. Now, after stemming a March outbreak centred on a gym, Hong Kong has been reporting only a handful of new infections a day, or low double-digits at most.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on April 12 that the virus was "obviously contained" in the city and encouraged more people to get vaccinated, dangling the prospect of looser rules on social distancing for those who were inoculated.
Singapore averaged two new cases per week recently.
Sporadic outbreaks also complicated a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand. After many months in the making, a quarantine-free flight corridor between those two countries - which have largely eliminated the virus due to strict border curbs - opened on April 19.
The Hong Kong-Singapore agreement should unleash a torrent of pent-up demand from people eager to fly overseas and potentially do business in person after more than a year of the pandemic, though it is unclear yet the limited number of flights or seats that will be made available.
The desire to travel in any way possible is reflected in the popularity of so-called cruises to nowhere in Singapore and tickets selling out for gimmicky dinners on parked aircraft.
Under previous travel bubble plans, flights will be operated by Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways. The two airlines have been hammered by Covid-19 as they do not have domestic markets to compensate for a near-total collapse in international travel.
Latest data show Cathay flew just 598 passengers a day on average in March as it operated a skeleton schedule to only 18 destinations. Singapore Airlines' numbers are also just a tiny fraction of pre-pandemic levels.
Cathay’s shares rose as much as 4.8 per cent Monday morning, while Singapore Airlines advanced about 1 per cent.