S'pore, HK to review air travel bubble plans early next month

People wearing face masks at a popular tourist spot in Seoul on Wednesday. In response to media queries on a possible air travel bubble with South Korea, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that although these are concepts to think about in the medium t
People wearing face masks at a popular tourist spot in Seoul on Wednesday. In response to media queries on a possible air travel bubble with South Korea, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that although these are concepts to think about in the medium term, it would definitely not be "in this period when we are just recovering from this wave of transmission and opening up in stages".PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Singapore and Hong Kong will review their air travel bubble arrangement early next month before deciding on target launch dates, the Ministry of Transport said yesterday.

The launch of the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble, originally planned for May 26, was deferred by mutual agreement due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in Singapore.

Since then, the numbers of community cases and local unlinked cases in Singapore have been showing a downward trend.

Hong Kong's Covid-19 situation also continues to remain stable, with very few community cases over the past few weeks.

Singapore's Transport Minister S. Iswaran and Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau "have maintained close contact and agreed that both sides would review the situation in early July before making a decision on the target launch dates of the air travel bubble flights", the Transport Ministry said in a statement.

At a news conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said he had a discussion with his Hong Kong counterpart recently where they both acknowledged that it is important for both parties to put in place safe management measures in order for travel to open up.

"One of the key measures is really to enhance our vaccination rate," said Mr Gan.

"Once we have a very high vaccination rate, then it opens up a lot more possibilities and offers greater flexibility, even in international travelling."

He said the work of the transport ministers on both sides has established a basic framework for air travel, which will serve both well in time to come.

"The discussion is continuing, but I think it will require some time, especially until we are able to raise our vaccination rate. Then, this will give us greater confidence and greater flexibility in implementing air travel bubbles."

At the news conference, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said discussions are continuing for safe travel concepts in future.

In response to media queries on a travel bubble with South Korea, he said: "I think these are concepts that we need to think about for the medium term, (but) definitely not in this period when we are just recovering from this wave of transmission and opening up in stages."

But he added: "I think it is always good that we cast our mind several months down the road because we do need to live our lives normally and resume normalcy, that must include some travelling to safe places in a safe way.

"So I think it is actually good to continue discussions with different partners, regions and countries on what are the possibilities going ahead. But, as of now, I don't think there are any firm plans."

Mr Ong noted that the term "air travel bubble" has been very loosely used to refer to various concepts. For instance, the travel bubble with Hong Kong was based on pre-departure and on-arrival testing, without any quarantine period.

"In the case of South Korea, I believe the concept has been a vaccinated travel bubble, which means if both regions have managed their infections to a very low level... and they are confident that travellers are vaccinated, it is safe enough to travel with some precaution, such as testing before departure and arrival," Mr Ong said.

Beyond South Korea and Hong Kong, discussions are being held with many other countries as well, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore, HK to review air travel bubble plans early next month'. Subscribe