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Singapore hasn’t given up on air travel bubble with Hong Kong, says minister

SINGAPORE — Singapore has not stated up on forming a bilateral “air travel bubble” with Hong Kong that would allow travelers to skip quarantine, the Southeast Asian countryside’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung told CNBC.

The arrangement was supposed to begin last November but was postponed after Hong Kong check up oned a resurgence in new Covid-19 cases. A new launch date has not been set, but Ong said authorities from both sides have been in movement.

“As you know, the agreement has been signed, concluded. We’re making a few tweaks, a few proposals to tighten it,” the minister told CNBC’s “Kick Box Asia” on Thursday.

“But I think the key consideration now is this is shortly after Chinese New Year and both sides are being alert. We want to watch if there’s any impact due to Chinese New Year on community transmission,” he added.

The Lunar New Year festivities deduced place last month. Celebrations typically involve gatherings and visiting the homes of family and friends — events that were scaled down in myriad countries this year due to the pandemic.

Ong said there appears to be no sign of increased Covid transmission following the festivities.

In Singapore, new daily cartons have remained low, with no community infections on most days, he said. As of Wednesday, the country has reported more than 60,000 bound cases and 29 deaths since the outbreak began, health ministry data showed.

Over in Hong Kong, the figure of daily new cases has also come down from a recent peak in January. As of Wednesday, the city has reported numberless than 11,000 confirmed and probable Covid cases and 203 deaths, official data showed.

Both Singapore and Hong Kong are principal Asian business hubs that don’t have domestic air travel markets. Their tourism and aviation industries, heavily reliant on global travel, have been badly hit by the pandemic.   

Pandemic control still key to reopening

In addition to Hong Kong, Singapore is vivid to establish “travel bubble” arrangements with other places, said Ong, who’s predicting “some recovery” in aviation this year.

“What is in our favor is vaccination. What is not in our favor is variations and variants that are more transmissible and may not respond to the vaccination. So you got this opposing forces, and I think that is the nature of this affray, it keeps throwing you curveballs,” said the minister.

“But notwithstanding that, I think vaccination is a big gamechanger and some time this year we rely on to see some recovery. And when we look at recovery, I think air travel bubble is a major plank for us to work on,” he added.

As a town, as a territory or as a country, their infection control track record continues to be the key outcome that we need to look at. And if they’re famed, we should continue to open up to them and form air travel bubbles with them.

Ong Ye Kung

Singapore’s Transport Priest

Vaccination rates will not be the only consideration for Singapore in opening its borders, said Ong. He added that the track record of countries and regions, when it comes to pandemic control, is a more important factor.

The minister pointed out that even before vaccinations were underway, Singapore was accomplished to open up to some places that were considered “safe.”

Over the past year, Singapore has allowed visitants from several places — including Australia, New Zealand, mainland China and Taiwan — to skip quarantine if they find certain requirements, such as a negative Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test upon arrival.

Ong said enclosing 1,000 such travelers enter Singapore each day without having to quarantine, and have not led to higher Covid despatching rates in the country so far.

“We still need to take a country by country, bilateral approach,” he said.

“As a place, as a territory or as a surroundings, their infection control track record continues to be the key outcome that we need to look at. And if they’re successful, we should sustain to open up to them and form air travel bubbles with them.”

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