The planned “travel bubble” between Hong Kong and Singapore will be delayed by at least two weeks, amid a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong.
Originally scheduled to launch on Sunday, November 22, the world’s first quarantine-free travel bubble was postponed less than 24 hours before it was due to begin.
“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,” wrote Singapore transport minister Ong Ye Kung on his Facebook page.
Why it matters: The decision will come as a massive blow to the two cities’ struggling tourism industries, as well as other countries who would have been hoping to replicate the “travel bubble” model themselves.
• After several weeks of infections in the single-digits, Hong Kong health authorities recently began reporting a sudden uptick in cases over the past week.
• On Saturday, Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection reported 43 new COVID-19 cases, 13 of which were from “unknown sources of infection”, sparking fears that the city could be facing a dreaded “fourth wave”.
• Hong Kong’s tourism industry regards Singapore as a major market, with more than 453,000 arrivals from the city-state recorded in 2019, according to Hong Kong Tourism Board.
More details: Although both countries had initially agreed that the bubble would be halted if either country recorded seven straight days of five or more unknown transmission cases, Hong Kong’s worrying Saturday report of 13 unknown transmission cases was enough for authorities in both cities to temporarily delay the arrangement.
• The original terms of the bubble would have allowed for a daily maximum of 200 residents from one city to travel to the other, with no restrictions on the purpose of travel. Only those who had been in either country for two weeks and tested negative would be allowed to board.
• The recent clusters of local infections in Hong Kong have spanned taxi drivers, nightclub visitors, and hotels, and have prompted the government to implement mandatory virus tests for the first time.
Looking ahead: As a result of the suspension, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, the two designated airlines which would have operated under the travel bubble, will allow customers who have booked tickets from November 22nd to December 6th to request a full refund, according to The Standard.
• To date, Hong Kong has confirmed a total of 5561 COVID-19 cases and 108 deaths, while Singapore has reported 58148 cases and 28 fatalities.
• Even if cases begin to dwindle again, the two countries will continue to review the situation every day to determine whether the travel bubble can still be implemented. “We will review within two weeks on the new launch date and update again,” wrote Ong.