Hong Kong-Singapore Travel Bubble in Doubt, Sinking Shares

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A long-awaited quarantine-free travel corridor between Hong Kong and Singapore due to kick off later this month after several false starts may not go ahead due to a recurrence of coronavirus cases in Singapore.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said Friday there’s a “high chance” the so-called travel bubble might not proceed as scheduled, a view later echoed by Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung. The comments deal another blow to a plan that was initially set to start last November and then recently rescheduled to May 26. Singapore Airlines Ltd. closed down 5.7%, weighing on the broader index. It was the carrier’s biggest loss in a year.

“What we will do now is closely monitor the numbers the next few days, critically review the start date,” Ong said in a briefing in Singapore on Friday. “Early next week, we will make a decision and make an announcement.”

Hong Kong and Singapore have both taken strict, zero tolerance approaches to the virus, imposing curbs aimed at stamping out infections when outbreaks swell to levels that in other parts of the world would seem low. While a flare-up in Hong Kong scuppered the earlier travel corridor plans, this time it is Singapore that is seeing a recurrence in Covid cases, with restrictions announced Friday that will return the city state to the lockdown-like conditions it last imposed a year ago.

Hong Kong-Singapore Travel Bubble in Doubt, Sinking Shares

While stringent, the approach has worked at keeping a lid on Covid, with Hong Kong recording a total of 11,817 cases and 210 fatalities, while Singapore’s had about 63,000 cases, mostly in dormitories housing the city’s migrant workers. It’s seen just 31 deaths throughout the pandemic.

Other places in the Asia-Pacific region are following similar policies, seeking to eliminate Covid within their borders by snuffing out every case. Hardcore border controls, which often require lengthy quarantines and testing, are a key plank of the approach, and allowed Australia and New Zealand -- which are also pursuing Covid elimination -- to open their own bilateral travel bubble last month. It doesn’t require travelers to be vaccinated.

Changi Cluster

Singapore is trying to control its growing virus outbreak, which includes a cluster at the city’s iconic Changi Airport. Dozens of cases have been linked to the airport, prompting the closure of two terminals and the Jewel shopping complex.

The bubble plans had triggered a rush on plane tickets, with many people planning to fly between the two Asian financial hubs for business and to reunite with friends and family for the first time in months. Even if the corridor does go ahead later this month, visitors to Singapore will be faced with the tighter social-distancing restrictions now in place, which include a ban on dining in and limitations on gatherings.

“We hope to give a more perfect answer early next week as to when and the bubble arrangement would be launched or otherwise,” Yau said in Hong Kong, following discussions with his counterparts in Singapore.

Singapore Airlines slid as much as 7.4% before paring the loss slightly, while Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. dipped before closing 0.3% higher in Hong Kong. The two carriers, which have been hit particularly by the pandemic as they lack a domestic market, are scheduled to operate flights in the travel bubble.

Hong Kong and Singapore will be reviewing the situation in the next couple of days, Yau said.

Bubble PlanDetails
Eligibility

People in Hong Kong and Singapore, irrespective of nationality

No travel to other places in the 14 days prior to departure

TestingNegative result collected within 72 hours of flying
VaccineHong Kong residents need to finish two vaccine doses at least 14 days before flight. Exceptions include under 16s, people who can’t get vaccinated due to medical reasons, passengers using non-Hong Kong travel documents and travelers who have been in Hong Kong less than 90 days before departure
Flight arrangementsMay 26 to June 9, one daily flight with 200 travelers to and from both cities. From June 10, two flights a day. Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines will operate the flights
Contact tracingTravelers must use local contact-tracing mobile applications and records are retained for up to 31 days
Other requirementsSubmit required passes or declaration before arrival, take Covid-19 test at the airports
MechanismIf the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local cases is more than five in either place, the bubble will be suspended for two weeks. Unlinked local cases exclude Singapore dormitory residents

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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