HK suggests vaccination as criterion for travel bubble with S’pore, East Asia News & Top Stories

The Hong Kong government said travellers taking advantage of a planned travel bubble with Singapore should be vaccinated, as it resumes talks with the Lion City over the much-delayed proposal for quarantine-free travel.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said at a joint briefing yesterday that Hong Kong residents who take part in travel bubble arrangements would have to have two doses of a vaccine and wait at least 14 days after the second jab before taking a quarantine-free flight.

“We have put forward the proposal to the Singapore Government and we’re waiting for a response, but I think it’s important that we first get things right on our side – that is, before people here in Hong Kong travel, they must first be vaccinated. This is for their own protection,” he said.

Mr Yau noted that the city’s seven-day moving average for unknown infections has dropped to fewer than five, which paved the way for discussions to resume between the two cities.

Hong Kong yesterday recorded eight new infections, of which one was local. The rest were imported.

This brings the total tally since the pandemic started to more than 11,400 infections and 205 deaths.

And while he did not provide a timeline for when the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble would restart, Mr Yau said Hong Kong is in talks with 16 jurisdictions on travel arrangements for those who are vaccinated.

Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in response that Hong Kong has kept the pandemic under control and that “this is a very positive development”.

“We have received a proposal from Hong Kong to reopen borders safely. We are studying it and will be responding to Hong Kong shortly.”

The travel bubble with Singapore was suspended ahead of the first scheduled flight on Nov 22 when the pandemic in Hong Kong worsened, triggering the fourth wave of Covid-19 that lasted four months – the longest so far.

Mr Yau’s suggestion goes further than the initial agreement for passengers in the bubble to be tested before departure and upon arrival in each city.

When asked about recognition for the different vaccines, Mr Yau said different jurisdictions will have their own standards but Hong Kong officials “will consult the health authorities in the respective areas and discuss the mutual regulation issue”.

With the Easter holidays this weekend, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told the briefing that the government will proceed with caution.

From Thursday until April 14, public swimming pools and beaches will be reopened, and the capacity for cinemas and performance venues will be raised to 75 per cent from 50 per cent.

The ban on religious gatherings will also be lifted and the health authorities say the number of participants at religious venues may be capped at 30 per cent.

Bars, pubs, nightclubs, mahjong parlours and bathhouses will remain closed, while the cap on public gatherings remains at four.

“Now, if we ease measures slightly before Easter holidays, there could be a resurgence of the epidemic. That’s why we do not have the condition now to substantially relax the various social distancing measures and immigration control measures. We must be patient and keep up our efforts a little longer,” said Professor Chan, who added that the latest moves are “by no means a relaxation”.

For people from low-risk areas such as Singapore, New Zealand and Australia, the mandatory hotel quarantine will be cut to 14 days, although there will be another seven days of “self-monitoring”.

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