Singaporeans are welcoming the news that they will be able to travel to Hong Kong for leisure from Nov 22 in the first air travel bubble arrangement for the Republic since border restrictions were imposed amid the coronavirus pandemic. The scheme will begin with one flight a day into each city, with a quota of 200 travellers a flight. This will be increased to two flights a day from Dec 7. The calibrated lifting of travel restrictions reflects the close relationship between the two economies, which have competed and collaborated on their way to becoming iconic Asian destinations for travel, business and residence. Covid-19 has hurt both badly, but it is time to renew the special link between them.
Of course, the arrangement is tentative. Although there will be no restrictions on the purpose of travel and no insistence on a controlled itinerary, those travelling to Singapore and Hong Kong will have to take Covid-19 tests in lieu of serving quarantine or stay-home notices. Also, the arrangement will be suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked Covid-19 cases is more than five in either Singapore or Hong Kong.
Clearly, the Singapore and Hong Kong authorities are closely mindful of the need to uphold the stringent health protocols that are in place in both jurisdictions, but also wish to probe the possibilities of the air bubble which covers them, as nations seek an economic and social way out of the lockdowns that have devastated the aviation sector. Such temporary arrangements between countries or territories, aimed at restarting commercial passenger services while regular international flights are suspended, are important to airlines and also to travellers, whose international interactions have been undercut by Covid-19. The key requirement is the trust that one side possesses in the other's capacity to control the transmission of the disease within its borders. Australia has moved to open its aviation borders with New Zealand - which has shown remarkable success in containing the outbreak of the pandemic - with a decision to allow residents there to travel to several Australian states without quarantine. Canberra has also said it is in the midst of discussions with Asian territories such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan on expanding its travel bubble.
Air bubbles will survive only so long as they are secure. So it is with the Singapore-Hong Kong bubble. It falls on travellers too to ensure that they are Covid-19-free when visiting either place. Also, they must adhere to the border control measures and public health requirements of both locations. It would be a pity if this tentative but important step outside borders were to be derailed by irresponsible travellers who fly out even when they know that they should not.