Hong Kong and Singapore postponed the world’s first quarantine-free travel bubble for two weeks after a surge of new coronavirus infections in Hong Kong, a setback for their flagship airlines and tourism businesses looking to kickstart a recovery.
The governments delayed the inaugural flights, scheduled to depart Sunday, because of the spike of local infections in Hong Kong, Edward Yau, the city’s secretary for commerce and economic development, said Saturday.
Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said on his Facebook page that he spoke to Yau on Saturday and they decided to defer the plan.
“I can fully understand the disappointment and frustration of travelers who have planned their trips,” he said, noting that airlines would be contacting travelers. “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.”
Under the current agreement between the two financial hubs, the arrangement is suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of unlinked cases rises to five in either city. The average in Hong Kong rose to 3.9 on Saturday from 2.1 a day earlier. Singapore hasn’t reported any local transmissions since Nov. 10.
The details of the formal re-introduction of the plan will be announced early next month, Yau said.
Hong Kong reported 43 new virus cases Saturday, the most in three months. The figure included 13 locally transmitted infections whose source was untraceable, suggesting there may be super-spreaders in the city.
Earlier Saturday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore had said the travel bubble plan would go ahead as planned. Hong Kong has a “comprehensive public health surveillance system” and the overall incidence rate is still low, the aviation authority said.
It updated the statement later in the day, saying the decision to delay was taken “to safeguard public health in both cities as well as travelers’ own health.”
Travelers can still take regular flights, subject to the normal border control and health requirements in each city, the CAAS said.