Two-way air travel bubble a first for HK and Singapore

Move paves way for leisure travel to resume; travellers will have to test negative for virus

Singapore and Hong Kong have agreed to create a two-way air travel bubble, the first for both sides, paving the way for leisure and other types of travellers to visit without the need to be quarantined.

They will be subject to conditions such as testing negative for Covid-19, and taking dedicated flights that do not accept transit passengers. The number of these flights can be raised or lowered, depending on the pandemic situation in both cities.

There will be no restrictions on itinerary or purpose of travel.

Details are still being worked out, but people could be travelling between both places in several weeks.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday called the move a small but significant step for the two aviation hubs, adding that it set the model for more partnerships to come to revive air travel.

Asked what precautions will be taken to safeguard Singapore from a spike in Covid-19 cases, Mr Ong said: "There should be a common understanding. We all want to control the virus and the epidemic, but should there be unforeseen circumstances, a spike, I think we will have to suspend (the arrangement)."

He added that this was an initiative which would be done progressively, cautiously, steadily and safely. "But we have to open up our aviation sector. We have to try," he stressed.

"Both of us are important aviation hubs. We both know that the aviation hub concerns the entire economy, not just the aviation industry."

Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau noted that this is the first travel bubble arrangement made by Hong Kong, and it is a milestone in efforts to resume normalcy.

"It is significant that our two regional aviation hubs have decided to collaborate to establish an air travel bubble. It is a safe, careful but significant step forward to revive air travel and provide a model for future collaboration with other parts of the world," Mr Yau added.

Last month, Mr Yau disclosed that Hong Kong was looking to set up air travel bubbles with 11 jurisdictions such as Singapore, Thailand, Japan and Australia.

The tourism sector, among the four key industries in Hong Kong, made up about 4.5 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2018 and employed around 257,000 people, representing about 6.6 per cent of total employment.

Hong Kong is the 10th place that Singapore has made special travel arrangements with. There are different types of agreements.

The first is a unilateral opening - a standing invitation from Singapore to countries that have comprehensive public health surveillance systems and have successfully controlled the spread of Covid-19.

Countries in this group are New Zealand, Brunei, Australia - excluding Victoria state - and Vietnam. Visitors have to apply for the Air Travel Pass that allows all forms of short-term travel, including leisure travel.

The second tier, bilateral green lane arrangements, are for essential business and official travel.

China was the first country to establish a green lane with Singapore.

There are also reciprocal green lanes with Malaysia, Brunei, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia. Application for travel between Singapore and Indonesia will begin on Oct 26. For Malaysia, there is a second scheme in place - the periodic commuting arrangement, for longer-term travel for work and business-related travel.

For countries hard-hit by the pandemic, travellers have to serve a 14-day quarantine at dedicated government facilities and take a swab test before the end of their quarantine period.