SINGAPORE - The Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble will be an important test that will determine if similar arrangements for leisure travel can be made with other governments.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung told The Straits Times on Thursday (Oct 29): "We need to persuade our partners... that it is possible to stay safe and yet open."
If Singapore and Hong Kong can demonstrate this "then I think we'll open up more minds and open up more air bubbles".
Announced two weeks ago, the bilateral air travel bubble, which takes off next month, will allow travel without the need for quarantine, stay-home-notice requirements or a controlled itinerary.
Travellers will need to have been in either Hong Kong or Singapore for a 14-day period before they make the journey and will also have to take mutually recognised Covid-19 swab tests with negative results.
Mr Ong, in an exclusive interview with ST, said the quota of travellers may be increased as operations stabilise, although he would not be drawn into giving a figure for those allowed to travel.
"We are approaching it in a very practical, very cautious manner to make sure that we are opening up safely, the minister said.
On whether Singaporeans can expect even more air travel bubbles, he remains cautions about raising expectations.
"We have spoken to many partners... and people are thinking about it," he said.
Much depends on the level of confidence that people in various countries have.
"We're not just talking government to government, or civil aviation authorities talking to each other," he pointed out.
"We also need to take care of the sentiments and competence level of our own people... So this is what is challenging about the whole process."
On whether there are plans for more travel between Singapore and Malaysia - one of the busiest air routes in the region - Mr Ong said: "I would really like to have an air bubble with Malaysia.
"But as of now, the case numbers in Malaysia are quite high, so I think we will have to wait and see... We do know and our healthcare officials' assessment is that Malaysia takes virus control very seriously. So I certainly hope they will succeed in suppressing this current round of spikes."
He added: "When the time is right, I'm sure I will propose (an air travel bubble) to them."
In the meantime, Singaporeans should temper their expectations about leisure travel.
Mr Ong, who is planning a staycation soon, urged patience.
"We have to be be patient... I wasn't planning to go anywhere in December, neither am I able to go anywhere.
"I guess we just have to spend more time discovering Singapore."