China

Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble: Late August review for quarantine-free coronavirus deal as city state grapples with outbreak


The much-delayed travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will be subject to further review in late August as conditions for launching the quarantine-free arrangement are still unsuitable.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said on Tuesday (July 20) that the two sides were reviewing the pandemic situation, highlighting the recent surge in Covid-19 infections in the city state.

“The condition for launching the air travel bubble cannot be met for the time being,” he said. “Both sides agreed that a review of the way forward can be conducted in late August, taking into account the effectiveness of the enhanced infection control measures implemented by Singapore and the global situation at that time,” he said.

The scheme was first slated for last November but was postponed after a surge in cases in Hong Kong. It was pushed back to May 26 and derailed again when Singapore suffered an outbreak.

Last month, the Hong Kong government said it would review plans in early July.

Under a mechanism agreed upon by both sides if the bubble scheme is launched, the arrangement will be suspended if the seven-day moving average of unlinked Covid-19 cases in either city exceeds five. The latest figure for Hong Kong stands at zero, and at 6.4 for Singapore.

Singapore will reimpose tightened Covid-19 restrictions from Thursday following a new cluster of cases centred on karaoke bar customers and fishmongers.

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The country’s renewed restrictions are similar to measures imposed from May 16 to June 13 in response to an earlier surge in cases linked to a cluster at Changi Airport.

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The first of the most recent clusters in Singapore erupted among karaoke bars, involving at least 193 cases as of July 19. The second cluster, which originated at the Jurong Fishery Port, includes at least 179 infections and has spread to 28 markets and cooked food centres, raising concerns that elderly patrons of such establishments may be at risk.

The Post learned on Tuesday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet Ngor had prioritised the resumption of quarantine-free travel between mainland China and Hong Kong, but little progress had been achieved so far.

Sources said the Hong Kong government had postponed a controversial plan to allow fully vaccinated people from places deemed high risk, such as Britain and the Philippines, to return as authorities wanted to minimise infection and avoid jeopardising the proposal to reopen the border with China.

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“All these plans [including the travel bubble] have to ‘step aside’ at this moment, as the government does not want to record more imported cases in Hong Kong, which could affect the mainland’s confidence in reopening the border with the city,” a source said.

The view was shared by Timothy Chui Ting Pong, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, who said the city had to achieve zero infections “because our priority is to open the borders with mainland China and Macau”.

Chui said he was not disappointed by another setback to the bubble scheme with Singapore because he had not been hopeful in the first place, and the delay would help weed out the uncertainty over reopening the border with the mainland.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.



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