Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble opens 22 November; passengers will need COVID-19 tests

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 this oneThe inaugural Air Travel Bubble (ATB) flights between Singapore and Hong Kong will begin on 22 November, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said Wednesday (11 November).

“The ATB is a milestone arrangement between two aviation hubs and seeks to revive air travel in a safe and progressive way,” CAAS said in a statement announcing the measures. “The good progress in containing the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore and Hong Kong has given us the confidence to reopen our borders gradually, with safeguards in place to ensure our public health and safety.”

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

Under the ATB, travellers between Singapore and Hong Kong will be subject to COVID-19 tests in lieu of quarantine or Stay-Home Notices. There will be no restrictions on the purpose of travel and no requirement for a controlled itinerary or sponsorship. Travellers from both cities must travel on designated ATB flights that will only serve ATB travellers. As a start, there will be one flight a day into each city with a quota of 200 travellers per flight. This will be increased to two flights a day into each city with a quota of 200 travellers per flight from 7 December. If the COVID-19 situation deteriorates in either city, the travel bubble arrangements will be suspended. Travellers must also meet the eligibility criteria and adhere to the prevailing border control measures and public health requirements of both cities.

Singapore’s Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung said “the Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble enables us to achieve two objectives at the same time – open up our borders in a controlled manner, while maintaining safety in our societies. While we may be starting small, this is an important step forward. I have no doubt both Singapore and Hong Kong will co-operate fully to make this scheme work. It will be a useful reference for other countries and regions that have controlled the epidemic, and are contemplating opening their borders.”

Singapore Airlines Chief Executive Officer Goh Choon Phong said the airline is “committed to ensuring that all precautionary measures are in place during the travel journey…as we rebuild from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”. He also said the measures being put in place pave “the way for us to open up in a safe and calibrated way with the necessary testing protocols in place, and provides a promising model for other bilateral arrangements around the world”.

The new travel arrangements were also met with approval by officials at the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Conrad Clifford, IATA’s regional vice president for Asia-Pacific, said “we welcome the implementation details of the Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble. International air travel in Asia-Pacific is practically non-existent. Our latest figures for September show passenger demand at about 95 percent below the same period last year. The Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble, though starting small, is a step in the right direction to reboot international travel in the region. We look forward to seeing Hong Kong and Singapore expand this arrangement with other destinations, and for other governments to adopt a similar approach.

Hong Kong International Airport. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

“What is significant is that quarantine measures have been lifted for any travel between Hong Kong and Singapore,” Clifford added, “and is not limited to just business or essential travel. Replacing quarantine measures with COVID-19 testing will help in re-opening borders, restore connectivity that jobs and the economy depend on, and give passengers confidence to travel. Standards and technological solutions will also be needed to facilitate the management, communication and verification of test results by the multiple stakeholders involved in the travel process. This is something we are working on with the parties in Hong Kong and Singapore.”

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