Topline

Hong Kong and Singapore have reportedly delayed plans to announce a quarantine-free travel bubble between the two cities after a cluster of Covid-19 cases was detected among migrant workers in Singapore, highlighting the challenges posed by such arrangements as the pandemic still persists in several parts of the world.

Key Facts

According to Bloomberg, the announcement of an air-travel bubble between the two Asian financial hubs was expected on Thursday but was cancelled by Singapore with no new date being set.

Neither side has commented on the arrangement and what led to the cancellation but a flare up of Covid-19 cases among Singapore’s migrant worker community this week is seen as the likely reason, the report suggests.

While neither city has been severely hit by the virus—with Hong Kong reporting a total of 209 deaths from Covid-19 and Singapore reporting only 30 deaths—any small outbreak raises alarms due to dense populations.

Key Background

Travel bubbles, which allow for quarantine free journeys between neighbouring nations, have presented somewhat of a lifeline for families, businesses and airlines during the pandemic. But they don’t always go to plan. This is the second time plans for a travel bubble between the two financial hubs have been postponed. The bubble was originally scheduled to start in November last year but that plan had to be scrapped after a flare up of cases in Hong Kong. The start date was then pushed to May, officials had said at the time, but the latest postponement leaves that timeframe uncertain. Strict pandemic protocols have dissuaded people in both cities from travelling outside and this has severely impacted the business of the two flag carriers—Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific. Earlier this week, Singapore said it would halve the required quarantine period for travellers from Hong Kong to just seven days and the quarantine could be done at their private residence instead of a government facility. Hong Kong also eased restrictions on visitors from Singapore—allowing unvaccinated travellers to quarantine for 14 days at a designated hotel followed by seven days of “self-monitoring”. Previously travellers were required to quarantine for  21 days at a hotel.

Tangent

On Monday, Australia and New Zealand opened a travel bubble that would allow their residents to travel between the two countries without needing to quarantine. While announcing the move, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pointed to the hard work the two countries had put in to effectively eliminate local transmission of the coronavirus which allowed for such a bubble. On Tuesday, however, a worker at Auckland International Airport tested positive for Covid-19, despite being fully vaccinated, threatening to set back the arrangement. Back in May last year, a group of European nations—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—had instituted a travel bubble arrangement. But it fell apart in September after Latvia mandated  a 14-day quarantine on travellers arriving from Estonia following an outbreak in the country. A number of travel corridors exist across countries in Africa, Europe and Asia, according to travel blog Wego.

Further Reading

Singapore and Hong Kong Call Off Travel Bubble Announcement (Bloomberg)

Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble announcement delayed as Singapore quarantines hundreds of migrant workers (South China Morning Post)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus