SINGAPORE - The launch of the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble will be deferred for two weeks, with the new launch date to be announced later, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Saturday (Nov 21).
The deferment came hours after the authorities in both cities agreed to proceed with the travel arrangement despite a spike in the number of infections in Hong Kong.
In a Facebook post at 5pm on Saturday (Nov 21), Mr Ong said that he and Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau agreed that it would be better to defer the launch given the evolving situation in Hong Kong.
"We will review within two weeks on the new launch date and update again," he wrote.
The Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble - the Republic’s first since border restrictions were imposed amid the coronavirus pandemic - was slated to launch on Sunday (Nov 22) with one flight into each city and each flight with a maximum capacity of 200 passengers.
"I can fully understand the disappointment and frustration of travellers who have planned their trips. But we think it is better to defer from a public health standpoint," Mr Ong said, adding that the airlines will be contacting affected passengers.
"This is a sober reminder that the Covid-19 virus is still with us, and even as we fight to regain our normal lives, the journey will be full of ups and downs. But we will press on and look forward to when we can safely launch the (air travel bubble)," he said.
Hong Kong health authorities reported 43 Covid-19 cases on Saturday, 13 of which were unlinked.
Under the agreement terms, travel 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. A two-day notice period will apply before the travel bubble is suspended.
Hong Kong’s new unlinked cases reported on Saturday took the rolling seven-day average to 3.86.
In a statement, Singapore Airlines said it supports the postponement decision. "The health and safety of our customers remain our top priority," its spokesman said, noting that affected customers were being contacted.
Customers who no longer wish to travel due to the deferment of the air travel bubble may request for a full refund of the unused portion of their ticket and have the cancellation fees waived.
Cathay Pacific was reported by Hong Kong media as saying that passengers can also opt for a refund or reschedule their flights at no cost.
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Ong had said that the air travel bubble would begin on Sunday as planned, but there was a "high chance" that it would be suspended, given the rising number of cases in Hong Kong.
Singapore has also announced that visitors arriving from Hong Kong will be required to take a Covid-19 test upon arrival.
Even with the suspension of the travel bubble, Singapore citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders can still return to Singapore from Hong Kong by non-bubble flights. But they will be subject to Singapore's quarantine arrangements such as the seven-day stay-home notice.
Have you been affected by the deferment of the travel bubble flights? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.