S'pore-HK air travel bubble to start on Nov 22 with one flight a day to each city

The Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble was slated to launch on Nov 22, 2020. PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, AFP

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG - Travellers from Singapore will be able to travel to Hong Kong for leisure from Nov 22, in the first air travel bubble arrangement for the Republic since border restrictions were imposed amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The scheme will start with one flight a day into each city with a quota of 200 travellers per flight, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung announced in Singapore on Wednesday (Nov 11).

This will be increased to two flights a day from Dec 7.

The arrangement 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, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said in a statement.

As part of the air travel bubble, travellers between Singapore and Hong Kong will have to take Covid-19 tests, in lieu of serving quarantine or stay-home notices.

There will be no restrictions on the purpose of travel, and no need for a controlled itinerary.

But travellers must meet eligibility criteria and adhere to the prevailing border control measures and public health requirements of both cities, said the CAAS.

Those departing from Singapore need to apply to CAAS to take the Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) at least seven days before their trip, with a confirmed flight ticket to Hong Kong.

Those travelling from Dec 1 would not need to apply for approval, and can go directly to one about 600 clinics and private healthcare providers in Singapore to get their PCR tests done.

All travellers will be required to test negative 72 hours before their scheduled departure.

On arrival in Hong Kong, travellers from Singapore will be required to take another Covid-19 test and remain at the airport until the results are confirmed. This could take about four hours, Mr Ong said.

There is no such requirement for travellers from Hong Kong coming here.

Asked why, Mr Ong said that the scheme is "not designed to be symmetrical" and should allow flexibility within own territories.

Singapore, for example, requires travellers to download the TraceTogether contact tracing app and apply for an Air Travel Pass.

Negotiations between Singapore and Hong Kong were concluded earlier this week.

CAAS said: "The good progress in containing the spread of Covid-19 in Singapore and Hong Kong has given us the confidence to reopen our borders gradually, with safeguards in place to ensure our public health and safety."

Mr Ong noted that the air traffic bubble enables Singapore and Hong Kong to open up their borders in a controlled manner, while maintaining safety in both societies.

"While we may be starting small, this is an important step forward. I have no doubt both Singapore and Hong Kong will cooperate fully to make this scheme work," he said.

Mr Ong added that this air travel bubble will be a useful reference for other countries and regions that have controlled the epidemic, and are contemplating opening their borders.

The arrangement was first announced in the middle of last month, allowing people to travel between the two locations without the need to be quarantined, but subject to conditions such as testing negative for Covid-19.

In a separate briefing in Hong Kong, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said the test at the Hong Kong International Airport that visitors who arrive in the city have to undergo will cost HK$499 ($87).

He added: "This is the very first air travel bubble for Hong Kong. It matters not only for cross-border travel between the two places, but also reflects the government's hope to progressively restore the city's economic activities amid the long-drawn battle against Covid-19."

Health Secretary Professor Sophia Chan noted that the Covid-19 incidence rates remain low in the city.

On Wednesday, the city added 18 new cases, bringing the total confirmed tally to 5,407.

The seven-day average of untraceable local cases as of Tuesday had gone up to 0.6 from 0.3 at the start of the month. The seven-day average of local cases went up in the same period from 0.4 to 1.1.

"We see a rebound in the number of local cases. We have to stay vigilant. If we let our guard down, there might be another outbreak, which will be the fourth outbreak.

"Coupled with the winter seasonal influenza, the situation may be more severe," warned Prof Chan.

The third wave of the pandemic had swept the city in late July prompting the harshest restrictions such as capping public gatherings at two and limiting dining-in services. The third wave only tapered off in September when rules were again eased.

Currently, the cap on public gathering is four. Eateries run at 75 per cent capacity and patrons at each table are capped at six, while bars and pubs reopened and each table can sit up to four patrons.

Singaporean Sue Ong, 30, is "very excited" that the details of the travel bubble are finally out.

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The banking professional had booked a flight back to Singapore prior to Wednesday's announcement and it coincidentally came under the travel arrangement.

While Ms Ong thinks "doing three tests is a tad excessive and adds extra costs to the trip", she appreciates that it is out of precaution.

"Also very thankful I booked the right flights prior so now I don't have to scramble to make changes," she said.

Hong Kong is the 10th place that Singapore has made special travel arrangements with.

Apart from air travel bubbles, there are also other schemes in place, such as bilateral green lane arrangements, which are for essential business and official travel.

Unilateral border openings, which are one-sided, also safely lift Singapore's border restrictions and welcome travellers from certain countries and regions.

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