Hong Kong, Singapore to open travel bubble

Quarantine-free trips to begin 26 May as both cities have stabilised COVID-19 cases

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Tourism in Hong Kong has suffered from a double whammy of political unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Regional economic powerhouses Hong Kong and Singapore announced Monday (26 April) that the two cities will open a so-called “travel bubble” to allow quarantine-free travel between the two. The two cities had planned to open the bubble last year, but called it off due to a rise in cases in Hong Kong.

Changi Airport in Singapore is still almost a ghost town in 2021. A lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Under the new plan, Hong Kong travellers must be fully vaccinated two weeks prior to their date of departure for Singapore, though this will not be required for those going from Singapore to Hong Kong.  Under an earlier version of the plan in November, both sides agreed the bubble would be suspended if the daily average of untraceable COVID-19 cases in a week reached more than five in either city. Singapore has between zero and two local cases daily in the past few months, but last week reported that 17 migrant workers who had recovered from a previous bout of COVID-19 had tested positive. The infections were linked to a 35-year-old Bangladeshi man, who lived in a dormitory and tested positive last Monday despite being fully vaccinated. The city-state is investigating if the 17 were reinfections or viral fragments, according to media reports.

Cathay has delivered at least 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. (PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

In Hong Kong, social-distancing curbs have been eased and people can go to the gym and dine at a maximum of four people per table at restaurants, while the city has confirmed between one and 30 infections over the past seven-day period, most of which were imported. Through Sunday, the total infection tally stood at 11,736, with 209 related deaths. Singapore’s Ministry of Transport (MOT) said on Monday 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.

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 re-launch 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 Edward Yau said in a statement “with gradual stabilisation of the fourth wave of epidemic in Hong Kong, we have been engaging in active discussion with Singapore on the re-launch 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 Airlines (SIA) said in a statement that it “welcomes the decision to start an Air Travel Bubble arrangement between Singapore and Hong Kong on 26 May 2021. This is an important milestone in our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and helps to establish confidence in the safe resumption of international air travel with the necessary protocols in place. Singapore Airlines strongly support all efforts to open the Singapore air hub up in a safe and calibrated manner. We will continue to be nimble and flexible in adjusting our capacity to meet the demand for air travel.”

The airline also announce its flight plans.

From 26 May to 7 June 2021, the flight schedule will be as follows:

Route Month Date Departure Arrival Flight Number Aircraft
Singapore – Hong Kong May 26, 28, 30, 31 08:40 12:40 SQ882 Airbus A350-900
Singapore – Hong Kong June 2, 4, 7 08:40 12:40 SQ882 Boeing 777-300ER
Hong Kong – Singapore May 28, 30, 31 14:25 18:20 SQ883 Airbus A350-900
Hong Kong – Singapore June 2, 4, 7 14:25 18:20 SQ883 Boeing 777-300ER

*All times are local

From 9 June 2021, Singapore Airlines will operate daily ATB flights. The schedule is below:

Route Frequency Departure Arrival Flight Number Aircraft
Singapore – Hong Kong Daily 08:40 12:40 SQ882 Boeing 777-300ER
Hong Kong – Singapore Daily 14:25 18:20 SQ883 Boeing 777-300ER

*All times are local

Apart from the inoculations for Hongkongers, travellers on both sides are required to do a virus test 72 hours before their departure, while they are required to be screened again when they arrive at the airport. Designated lanes will be set up at the Hong Kong airport for the post-arrival tests. Hong Kong travellers to Singapore must fill in and submit an arrival card and book a post-arrival virus test three days before arriving. After taking the test at the airport, travellers will have to go to their declared place of accommodation by private transport, taxis or hired cars, and stay there until receiving their negative test result. Singapore permanent residents may quarantine in their own homes, according to media reports.

Singapore travellers, meanwhile, will have to fill in an online health declaration form 48 hours before arrival in Hong Kong, and can only leave the airport and begin their itineraries after getting a negative test result. Travellers also have to download the government’s LeaveHomeSafe mobile app and scan the QR codes displayed at premises during their stay, and must retain records for 31 days subsequent to departure from the city.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it is “excited to welcome the resumption of the Hong Kong-Singapore Air Travel Bubble and is ready to fly passengers on board its two-way, all-purpose, quarantine-free Air Travel Bubble flights starting 26 May. These flights will be operated by pilots and cabin crew who have all been fully vaccinated. With travel having been difficult for everyone over the past year, we know that our customers have been eagerly anticipating the launch of our Hong Kong-Singapore Air Travel Bubble flights so that they can rediscover the joy of flying. We believe the safe and secure bubble flights will be a milestone showcase for the opening of similar travel arrangements with other popular destinations.”

Cathay Pacific’s Air Travel Bubble flights will operate as CX759 and CX734 using our modern, fuel-efficient Airbus A350-900 aircraft. The inaugural CX759 flight from Hong Kong will depart on 26 May, while the first CX734 flight from Singapore will depart on 27 May.

Date 

Flight No. 

Departing 

STD 

Arriving 

STA 

26 May 

CX759 

HKG 

09:10 

SIN 

13:05 

27 May 

CX734 

SIN 

14:45 

HKG 

19:00 

In addition to the resumption of the Hong Kong-Singapore Air Travel Bubble, Cathay Pacific said it also “welcomes the recently announced expansion of the Hong Kong SAR Government’s Return2hk Scheme. This will enable Hong Kong residents arriving from anywhere in the Chinese mainland to enter the city without the need to undergo quarantine. Cathay Pacific currently operates flights between Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xiamen and Hong Kong already and will add more routes in the coming months to enable Hong Kong residents to return more easily. 

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