Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble likely to be delayed after spike in COVID-19 infections

Lion City strengthens restrictions on social gatherings with "Phase 2 Heightened Alert" following closure of Changi to the public due to airport virus cluster

Emirates 2 Scaled is a “high chance” the long-awaited air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong will be delayed further from 26 May due to increasing virus cases in Singapore, government officials in both cities said on Friday (14 May). Edward Yau Tang-wah, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, made his prediction after a conversation with his counterpart in Singapore. “We must plan for the best arrangements to resume travel, we should take absolute precautions and make early announcements,” he said.

Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said later on Friday that Singapore will “critically review” the start date of the air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong, given Singapore’s rising number of COVID-19 cases. “The assessment is: Given the rising cases in Singapore, it is very likely that Singapore will not be able to meet the resumption criteria,” Ong said. “What we’ll do now is closely monitor the numbers next few days, critically review the start date and early next week, we will make a decision and make an announcement on the Singapore, Hong Kong air travel bubble.”

Yau’s comments came after an increase in the number of local cases in Singapore. Singapore now has 12 active clusters. The country has already recorded 112 domestic infections this month, compared to 55 cases in April and just nine in March. Authorities have also detected several variants of concern in both local and imported infections, such as the B.1.617 strain that was first identified in India and is thought to be more transmissible. Changi Airport in Singapore cut public access to all its terminals and the Jewel shopping centre following an outbreak of COVID-19 cases there. Officials said on Wednesday (12 May) the move was necessary for workers to be tested and for the facilities to be cleaned. The terminals will remain open for the few international passengers flying in and out of Singapore and for airport workers.

The increase in the number of cases in Singapore caused the government to reimpose limits on social gatherings at restaurants and other venues. The current size of group gatherings allowed will be reduced from five people to two people, said Minister for Education Lawrence Wong. This and other new measures under what the Health Ministry labelled as “Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)” will take effect from 16 May through 13 June. Speaking at a multi-ministry task force press conference on Friday, he said: “This will apply across the board, so if you want to go out for anything, grocery shopping, exercise, maximum of two persons henceforth. In fact, we strongly encourage everyone to stay home as much as possible, go out only for essential reasons. We will do a review at the midway point, meaning two weeks after the measures have been implemented, and at that point we will look at the prevailing public health situation and see if there’s a need to adjust the measures further,” he added.

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)

“We are in a stage of heightened alert. I would urge everyone to be vigilant and minimise unnecessary social interactions,” said Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Singapore and Hong Kong are major Asian business hubs and both cities have seen their economies suffer tremendously because they both lack domestic air markets due to their size and international aviation has all but shut down as a result of the global pandemic.

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