SINGAPORE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) flights departing from the Republic have been barred from landing in Hong Kong for two weeks.
The move comes after a transit passenger who arrived in the territory on Wednesday (March 31) tested positive for Covid-19, while three other passengers on the flight were found to have breached rules for entry to Hong Kong.
On Friday (April 2), the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said the passenger with Covid-19 had tested negative pre-departure.
The three non-compliant passengers were also transit passengers. They had taken Covid-19 pre-departure tests at clinics in their places of origin that did not meet Hong Kong's requirements.
SIA had breached a trigger point that Hong Kong has set whereby airlines could face suspension, the CAAS said.
Other airlines have also similarly breached the trigger points before as the Hong Kong authorities enforce them strictly, it added.
The infected passenger is a 28-year-old woman who arrived in Hong Kong from Indonesia. She was asymptomatic.
The Hong Kong government said the positive case was detected through a sample collected at the airport. Three passengers on the same flight - SQ882 from Singapore to Hong Kong - failed to comply with local Covid-19 regulations for inbound travellers.
Hong Kong's Health Department then invoked powers under the regulations to bar the daily SIA passenger flight from Singapore to Hong Kong from April 3 to 16.
Responding to queries, it said the territory has barred airlines from landing in Hong Kong for two weeks a total of 23 times since August last year. These airlines include Hong Kong's own flag carrier Cathay Pacific, Air India and some European carriers such as British Airways.
An SIA spokesman confirmed the flight ban, but noted that passenger services from Hong Kong to Singapore are not affected.
The spokesman said SIA has taken immediate steps to strengthen checks at the point of embarkation to ensure its customers are in compliance with Hong Kong's regulatory requirements. The airline will also assist the health authorities in contact tracing efforts related to the case.
Apologising to affected customers, SIA said it is reaching out to them to offer assistance, and minimise the inconvenience.
The flight ban comes just as talks on re-establishing a much-delayed air travel bubble between the two cities had resumed. Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday that Singapore is studying a proposal from Hong Kong to allow quarantine-free flights.
A travel bubble between the cities was supposed to be launched last November, but was halted before the first scheduled flight when Hong Kong saw a spike in Covid-19 cases. It was pushed back twice, and remains on ice.
Aviation analysts told The Straits Times that the two-week flight ban is unlikely to have a significant impact on SIA or the proposed air travel bubble.
Mr Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation said it is not uncommon for Hong Kong to bar airlines over imported Covid-19 cases.
Last November, it was reported that Air India had been banned from operating flights to Hong Kong five times over a period of four months. China has also implemented similar bans, Mr Sobie said.
He added that the current flight from Singapore to Hong Kong mainly caters to transit passengers. Any flights under a proposed travel bubble would be be separate from this, so the current talks should not be impacted by the ban.
Meanwhile, SIA can continue to operate the flight and carry cargo. "Load factors are very low these days and cargo accounts for most of the revenue," Mr Sobie said.