Hong Kong and Singapore Set Date for Long-Awaited Travel Bubble

A quarantine-free air travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore is finally slated to get off the ground with a start date of May 26, following setbacks that led to the plan initially being shelved last November.

Largely shut off from the rest of the world during the pandemic, the two sides have been in talks for months to revive the travel corridor. In statements and briefings Monday, they laid out details and requirements for would-be travelers, with Hong Kong saying people must have had two vaccine doses at least 14 days before flying. There’s no such requirement from Singapore.

Cathay Pacific Airlines Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. will operate the flights, with the first Cathay trip slated to leave Hong Kong at 9:10 a.m. on May 26. Singapore Air’s departure that day is 8:40 a.m. They will start daily flights in the bubble from June 9 or 10. The agreement limits each flight to 200 travelers. The carriers’ shares rose more than 2% Monday.

The travel bubble could lift traffic for both airlines by up to 3%, according to Bloomberg Intelligence transportation analyst James Teo, who called it a “small but significant step forward.”

Preparations for the travel corridor between the two major financial hubs have stuttered ever since it was shelved in November after coronavirus cases picked up in Hong Kong. A recent plan to announce its revival was canceled last week by Singapore, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

“It has been a long few months, but the conditions are now ripe again,” Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a statement. “Both sides will need to stay very vigilant in the next month, so that we can launch the first flights smoothly.”

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

Despite occasional flare-ups, including at a dormitory for migrant workers in Singapore last week, Covid-19 caseloads in both cities are low and life is returning to normal. Hong Kong may reopen bars later this week and lengthen restaurant opening hours, among other steps to ease social distancing. Bringing outbreaks under control was key to opening the travel bubble.

Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau said the requirement to get vaccinated, which doesn’t apply to children under 16, was designed to encourage people to sign up for inoculations. Only about 11% of the Hong Kong population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker -- less than half the rate in Singapore.

Hong Kong and Singapore Set Date for Long-Awaited Travel Bubble

Travelers will have to take Covid-19 tests and can’t have visited any places other than Hong Kong or Singapore in the two weeks before departure. Travelers from Hong Kong will have to use Singapore’s TraceTogether mobile app, while those coming from Singapore will need the LeaveHomeSafe app in Hong Kong. Records will be retained after the trip.

Singapore Airlines called the travel bubble “an important milestone” in its recovery from the pandemic, while Cathay also welcomed the agreement and said it could be a showcase for the opening of similar lanes with other popular destinations.

Fares on a return Singapore Airlines’ flight in economy class on May 26 jumped after the announcement to about S$968 ($730), from $618. Return economy tickets on Cathay were listed at HK$7,003 ($902) on the airline’s website, compared with HK$3,803 the previous day.

Hong Kong and Singapore have tight restrictions on travel. The former has been essentially off limits to non-residents and even they face lengthy stays in designated quarantine facilities upon arrival, which means that many people haven’t traveled at all since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago. That’s been reflected in Cathay’s numbers: the airline flew just 598 passengers a day on average in March.

Singapore last week eased restrictions on travelers from Hong Kong, who now can stay in home isolation for seven days rather than two weeks in a government-chosen hotel. Among its efforts to open up its borders, Singapore set up an area near Changi Airport to host business travelers without them needing to quarantine, provided they don’t leave the facility.

The plan comes as other parts of the world take steps to reopen more widely for travel. The European Union will recommend loosening restrictions to allow in fully vaccinated U.S. tourists this summer, the New York Times reported. Greece is starting to allow U.S. travelers earlier if they’ve been vaccinated or have proof of a negative Covid-19 test. The U.S. government, meanwhile, has said it won’t issue so-called vaccine passports due to privacy concerns.

Singapore has also proposed a travel bubble with Taiwan, Taipei-based Central News Agency reported Monday, citing Ong.

Disparate pandemic-related rules around the world have somewhat determined which vaccines people opt to take. In Hong Kong, there are two options, one made by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and the other by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. China has so far only recognized Chinese-made shots, which means people eager to travel to the mainland have been more likely to sign up for Sinovac. But as its vaccines aren’t approved in the U.S. or Western Europe, those with family or business ties there are more inclined to take the other shot.

As of Sunday in Hong Kong, about 688,100 Sinovac vaccine doses had been administered and the total for Pfizer-BioNTech was 587,100.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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