Travel bubble between HK and S'pore suspended

Both cities agree it is better to delay launch, given escalating Covid-19 situation in HK

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

The launch of the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble will be deferred for two weeks, and the new launch date will be announced later, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

The postponement came hours after the authorities in the two cities had said earlier in the day that the inaugural flights today would go ahead despite a spike in the number of Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong.

In a Facebook post at around 5pm, 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 Covid-19 pandemic - was supposed to take off with one flight into each city with a maximum capacity of 200 passengers on every flight.

"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.

"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 added.

The Hong Kong health authorities yesterday reported 43 Covid-19 cases, 13 of which were unlinked.

Under the terms of the arrangement, 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 city. A two-day notice period will apply before the travel bubble is suspended.

The unlinked cases in the territory yesterday took the rolling seven-day average to 3.9. Another nine unlinked cases today, which is likely to occur, would see Hong Kong breach the threshold.

Mr Yau said there was mutual agreement to delay the travel bubble plans by two weeks "for the Hong Kong (Covid-19) wave to settle a bit", describing it as the responsible thing to do and also to adhere to the conditions set out in the deal.

Retired banking professional Tan Lay Hoon, 53, who was supposed to take the first bubble flight from Singapore to see her husband who is based in Hong Kong now regrets booking it.

"I should have travelled two weeks ago with home quarantine instead of waiting for this bubble flight," she lamented. "Singapore Airlines (SIA) is only able to tell me that it is able to change my ticket at no charge, but there are no seats available on the travel bubble flight up till Jan 31, 2021."

SIA and Cathay Pacific said customers may request a full refund for their flights with cancellation fees waived.

In a statement, SIA said it supported the postponement. "The health and safety of our customers remain our top priority," a spokesman said, adding that affected customers will be contacted.

Cathay Pacific said passengers can opt to reschedule their flights at no cost.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore yesterday announced that visitors arriving from Hong Kong under the travel bubble will have to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction test upon arrival.

With the suspension of the travel bubble, Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders can travel from Hong Kong to Singapore on non-bubble flights. But they will have to serve a seven-day stay-home notice.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2020, with the headline 'Travel bubble between HK and S'pore suspended'. Print Edition | Subscribe