A planned air-travel “bubble” between Singapore and Hong Kong that had been due to start on Sunday, has been postponed for at least two weeks, due to new Covid-19 cases being detected in Hong Kong, said the respective authorities from the two places.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau Tang-wah, said both governments had agreed to delay the launch of the arrangement.
The judgement call had been taken “in the interests of making a good start and also in the interests of avoiding any confusion in passengers,” Mr Yau was quoted as saying by Hong Kong media. “We have decided to put this back for two weeks.”
Singapore’s Transport Minister, Ong Ye Kung, said in a Facebook post on Saturday: “Given the evolving situation in Hong Kong, [Mr] Yau and I discussed further this afternoon and decided that it would be better to defer the launch of the air travel bubble by two weeks.”
“We will review within two weeks, on the new launch date, and update again,” added Mr Ong.
“I can fully understand the disappointment and frustration of travellers who have planned their trips. But we think it is better to defer from a public health standpoint,” further noted Singapore’s Transport Minister.
The city-state’s two casino complexes, Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa – which had both been shuttered earlier in the health crisis – have already flagged the fact that their hotel facilities are currently being marketed to domestic customers, in the absence of meaningful numbers of foreign visitors.
The Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble had been due to start with one flight a day into each city, with a quota of 200 travellers per flight: with plans later to increase the link to two flights per day, if all went well.
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd and Singapore Airlines – the respective flag carriers for the two jurisdictions, the only airlines that had been given permission to run initial travel-bubble flights – told booked passengers they would receive a refund for their tickets or alternatively could rebook flights.
On Saturday, Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection had reported 43 new Covid-19 cases, of which 36 were locally transmitted. Thirteen of Saturday’s cases were from unknown transmission sources.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the centre’s communicable disease branch, said that day that 21 of the local cases were related to a “dancing cluster” and the majority of people infected visited the Starlight Dance Club, in the city’s Wan Chai district, on November 13 or 14.
A further 68 new cases were confirmed on Sunday, the highest daily tally in about three months, according to local authorities.
In comments on Thursday, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, had anticipated the possibility of a setback during travel-bubble arrangements with other places.
He stated: “We cannot be frozen, say, ‘The bubble is blown’. I have to have some way to say pause, and I squeeze down for a while until things stabilise again, then I can open up again.”