Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble burst by rising COVID-19 cases; plan deferred for 2 weeks

Hong Kong IFC Harbor by Matt Driskill
Hong Kong is trying to restore travel to the ccity to maintain its financial hub status. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Use thisPlans to open a so-called travel bubble today (22 November) were upended as a rising number of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong caused authorities to put at least a two week hold on the plan. The news came after Singapore on Saturday said it would require incoming Hong Kong travellers to take a COVID-19 test on arrival, which had not been part of the original plans.

A surge in COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong caused the postponement. Hong Kong health authorities on Saturday confirmed 43 new cases, 13 of which were untraceable and reported more than 60 new preliminary infections in what is now seen as the fourth wave of the pandemic. Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan from the Centre for Health Protection said the pandemic was now “coming in full fury”, according to media reports.

In a statement, Singapore Airlines said it “supports the decision by the Singapore and Hong Kong authorities to defer the launch of the Air Travel Bubble (ATB). The health and safety of our customers remain our top priority. Affected customers are being contacted by Singapore Airlines. Customers who no longer wish to travel due to the deferment of the ATB can request for a full refund of the unutilised portion of their ticket, and have the cancellation fees waived.”

Singaporean Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post that both sides had agreed to defer the arrangement to protect public health, adding “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,” he said. “But we will press on and look forward to when we can safely launch the air travel bubble.”

Subhas Menon, director general of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines, said in a report that the postponement was a setback for the industry but agreed it was better to proceed with caution. “If everyone is looking at this travel bubble, then it has to work,” Menon said. “If it commences and things get out of control, it is going to be a bigger blow to the whole thing. This (delay) is not going to make or break it. We waited this long, we can wait another two weeks to get back on the road again.”

A Hong Kong government spokesman said that the epidemic situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated rapidly. “The increasing trend of the number of unlinked local cases shows that there is an invisible and continuous transmission chain in the community. It is expected that the epidemic situation in Hong Kong will still remain severe in the near future…The deferral of the inaugural flights is a suitable and responsible arrangement to minimise the inconvenience caused to the ATB travellers and reduce the uncertainty in their itineraries.”

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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