Singapore, Hong Kong scrap travel bubble due to different Covid-19 strategies

Singapore and Hong Kong remain committed to facilitating travel between each other, given that both cities are financial and aviation hubs with close ties.
Singapore and Hong Kong remain committed to facilitating travel between each other, given that both cities are financial and aviation hubs with close ties.PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, AFP

SINGAPORE - Singapore and Hong Kong will no longer launch the long-delayed travel bubble for quarantine-free travel between the two cities.

Transport Minister S. Iswaran said on Thursday (Aug 19): "Both sides are focused on keeping our populations safe and minimising the risk of imported cases.

"But our strategies differ, with Singapore now taking steps to becoming a Covid-19-resilient nation. Against this backdrop, my Hong Kong counterpart, Secretary Edward Yau, and I have discussed and concluded that we will not be able to launch or sustain the air travel bubble in its present form."

Mr Iswaran said Singapore and Hong Kong remain committed to facilitating travel between each other, given that both cities are financial and aviation hubs with close ties.

However, Hong Kong is tightening its border control measures on Friday, with vaccinated travellers from Singapore and other places deemed to be of medium-risk of infection having to serve a 14-day quarantine, instead of seven days.

Meanwhile, Singapore announced on Thursday that visitors from Hong Kong and Macau will be able to enter the Republic with just one on-arrival Covid-19 swab test.

They will be allowed to go about their activities if they test negative.

Singapore and Hong Kong had said last month that they would resume discussions on the travel bubble when the Covid-19 situation allows.

The Hong Kong-Singapore travel scheme was slated to launch last November but was postponed to May after Hong Kong had a surge in cases.

It was derailed again when the number of coronavirus cases began to rise in Singapore in May. The situation stabilised, before another spike in cases in June.

Hong Kong legislators had last month urged the government to scrap the plan as Singapore shifts from a zero-infection strategy, which Hong Kong places great importance on.

They reasoned that having zero coronavirus cases is a requirement for the territory to reopen borders with the mainland.

But even as the troubled air travel bubble meets its end, Singaporeans in Hong Kong looking to head home were mostly delighted at the news that there would be no quarantine for people entering Singapore from Hong Kong from Friday.

Ms Janice Chia has not returned home since January last year. The 44-year-old, who works in education, is excited at being able to fly back to Singapore without having to serve quarantine.

"I am thrilled to know that I can travel back to Singapore without quarantine, even though I still need to serve a 14-day quarantine in Hong Kong," she said. "But at least half the journey is eased and I'll see if a trip is possible in October."

But there are others like retired banking professional Tan Lay Hoon, 54, who are "disappointed" that the bubble has popped, though she did think it might have been inevitable.

She said she had expected Singapore's unilateral move because it "had opened up to Taiwan, so why not for Hong Kong when Hong Kong has fewer cases than Taiwan".

She had returned to Hong Kong from Singapore last November, just before the pandemic situation took a turn for the worse in the territory.

"I think right now, there is clarity in the regulations and there is no need to wait for the travel bubble, so we just have to bite the bullet and serve the 14 days (in Hong Kong) like I did previously," said Ms Tan.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Hong Kong government said the two cities have different anti-epidemic strategies, so it will not pursue the travel bubble any further.

It welcomed Singapore's move, adding that it remains committed to facilitating connectivity between the two places.