UPDATED: Hong Kong, Singapore set up ‘air travel bubble’ to restart flights for flag carriers

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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)

Use this one(Updates with comments from IATA and Cathay Pacific)

Government officials in Singapore announced the city-state’s first two-way ‘air travel bubble’ with Hong Kong that will allow people to travel between the two locations without facing quarantines, subject to conditions including testing negative for COVID-19. The details are still under development but officials said the opening could take place within several weeks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has virtually shut down international aviation. Normally bustling Changi Airport in Singapore was quiet on 12 August. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said Thursday (15 October) the move is “a small but significant step” for the two aviation hubs, adding that the agreement set the model for more partnerships to come to revive air travel. Under the agreement, travellers will likely be tested before they depart. There will be no restrictions on segments of the population, itinerary or purpose of travel.

In January and February, Changi Airport in Singapore was full of passengers. Now a lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Hong Kong is the 10th place that Singapore has made special travel arrangements with and Singapore has instituted several types of agreements, according to reports. The first is a unilateral opening, a standing invitation from Singapore to countries that have comprehensive public health surveillance systems and have successfully controlled the spread of COVID-19. Countries in this group are New Zealand, Brunei, Australia – excluding Victoria state – and Vietnam. Visitors have to apply for the Air Travel Pass that allows all forms of short-term travel, including leisure travel.

The second tier, bilateral green lane arrangements, are for essential business and official travel. China was the first country to establish a green lane with Singapore. There are also reciprocal green lanes with Malaysia, Brunei, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.

For other countries, travellers have to serve a 14-day quarantine at dedicated government facilities and take a swab test before the end of their quarantine period.

Conrad Clifford, the Asia-Pacific regional vice president for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the association welcomed “the announcement by Hong Kong and Singapore on establishing a travel bubble between the two cities. Replacing quarantine measures with COVID-19 testing will help in re-opening borders, restoring the connectivity that jobs and economic activity depends on, and gives passengers greater confidence to travel. In a recent 11-market survey of travelers commissioned by IATA, 83 percent of respondents indicated that they will not travel if there is a chance of being quarantined at their destination. We look forward to receiving more details on the implementation of the Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble. We also urge other governments in Asia to take a similar approach to replace quarantine with COVID-19 testing as part of their efforts to re-open their borders and start restoring their economies.”

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it also welcomed the announcement of an in-principle agreement between the authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore to set up an air travel bubble between the two cities. Cathay Pacific Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said: “Singapore is a popular destination for Hong Kong travellers for both leisure and business purposes. We are grateful to the authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore for reaching this agreement, which importantly will enable passengers travelling between the two cities to do so without any restrictions on the purpose of their travel nor with any quarantine requirements for those with negative test results. This is a milestone development for Hong Kong and an important first step in facilitating the resumption of regular air travel to and from our home hub. We look forward to receiving further information regarding the details of its implementation and will work together with the authorities to ensure a safe and secure environment throughout all stages of travel.”

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