SINGAPORE, 26 April/Straits Times – The much-anticipated air travel bubble to allow quarantine-free travel between Singapore and Hong Kong is set to take off on May 26 – six months after its initial planned launch.
Originally planned to start in November last year, it was deferred by both parties due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong.
Singapore’s Ministry of Transport (MOT) said on Monday (April 26) that the travel bubble will have a cautious start. There will be one flight a day in each direction, capped at 200 passengers on each flight for the first two weeks.
The numbers will be reviewed thereafter.
Rules for travel will also be tightened. Travellers must have remained in either Singapore or Hong Kong in the last 14 days prior to departure, and the 14 days period must exclude any time spent in quarantine or stay-home notice (SHN) arising from their last return to Singapore or Hong Kong from overseas.
In addition, they must now download and install Hong Kong’s LeaveHomeSafe app on their mobile devices prior to leaving Singapore for Hong Kong.
If the air travel bubble has to be suspended when the seven-day moving average of the unlinked community cases in either Singapore or Hong Kong increases to above five, it can resume only when the Covid-19 situation has stabilised.
As earlier announced, travellers will have to undergo Covid-19 pre-departure and on- arrival polymerase chain reaction tests in lieu of quarantine or SHN; and travel on designated flights.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said: “I am happy that Hong Kong got the Covid-19 situation under control. It has been a long few months, but the conditions are now ripe again to relaunch the ATB (air travel bubble). Both sides will need to stay very vigilant in the next one month, so that we can launch the first flights smoothly.”
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, said in the media release: “With gradual stabilisation of the fourth wave of epidemic in Hong Kong, we have been engaging in active discussion with Singapore on the relaunch of ATB.
“The two governments have reached consensus on the latest arrangements and will put in place more stringent public health protocols in response to the latest epidemic development.
“Our goal remains striking a right balance between public health and travel convenience so that the public will feel assured while providing certainty.”
Singapore and Hong Kong will closely monitor the Covid-19 situation from now to the targeted launch date of May 26, and will proceed with the launch if the situation continues to be steady and under control in both cities, the statement added.
The travel bubble, which was initially scheduled to begin on Nov 22, was postponed on Nov 21 after a spike in Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong.
Singapore and Hong Kong said then that they would update on the new launch date within two weeks.
On Dec 1, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said that both cities had decided to defer the start of the travel arrangement to beyond 2020, given the high number of unlinked cases in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had said on April 13 that she expects “an early indication of agreement between the two sides” on the travel bubble.
The next update came on April 14 when Mr Ong announced that details of the arrangement were being finalised.
Some experts have pointed out that such travel bubble arrangements are fragile and can easily burst given the uncertain Covid-19 situation.
Australia and New Zealand had this month started a long-awaited quarantine-free travel bubble on April 18.
But the arrangement was paused just five days later on April 23, after a Covid-19 outbreak in Australia.