Singapore-Hong Kong Travel Bubble Has Families on Edge

As Singapore’s government assesses any potential change to a planned travel bubble with Hong Kong following a spike in local virus cases, families on both sides of the South China Sea are waiting and watching with bated breath — again.

Quarantine-free flights were originally meant to start last November, but the plan was postponed after an outbreak in Hong Kong. It was resurrected five months later and the first trips are scheduled for May 26. Relatives and friends are on the cusp of long-awaited reunions, but their hopes could still be dashed.

Selena Wu is one of many on tenterhooks. The 40-year-old, originally from Singapore, lives in Hong Kong and has seats on a June 1 bubble flight back to the city-state with her husband and three children. She plans to stay for six weeks, spending time with family.

“It will be the first visit since February last year,” said Wu, who along with her husband is fully vaccinated. Her parents plan to take the kids to Singapore’s famous night safari, but Wu worries if they’ll be able to fly there at all. “It’s so sad. Every night, we’re praying that the travel bubble will still persist.”

The corridor linking two of Asia’s most important cities reflects the fragility of reopening efforts given the spread of new variants and vaccination in the region that lags the U.S and Europe. Both Singapore and Hong Kong have suppressed local transmission to very low levels and face pressure to maintain that success amid attempts to revive their travel-reliant economies.

Visitors from Hong Kong, if they do come, will experience a Singapore that’s recently tightened restrictions once again. A growing cluster linked to a large public hospital has triggered a three-week crackdown, including limiting social gatherings to no more than five people and restraining border movements to stem the spread of the new variant first identified in India.

While barbecue pits, gyms and campsites are closed, restaurants are open and in most cases, busy. Patrons must however finish drinking by around 10pm. Operating capacity for attractions like museums and public libraries has been scaled back to 50%, tour groups capped at 20 people, and the use of Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which must be scanned to enter everything from supermarkets, shops, malls and eateries, will be mandatory from May 17.

Read more: The Hong Kong-Singapore Travel Bubble Has Burst: Daniel Moss

Singapore is working hard to contain the latest outbreak lest it threaten the World Economic Forum, which it is due to host in August, and the Shangri-La Dialogue, set to start on June 4. Government agencies have stepped up enforcement, penalizing businesses and individuals for breaching safety measures. An open house for the public to visit the president’s official residence next week has been canceled.

Airlines Drop

A spokeswoman for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which is organizing the Shangri-La event, said the body is “monitoring developments in Singapore, as well as the global Covid-19 situation. We continue to work in close partnership with the government of Singapore to ensure the highest levels of safety for participants.”

A Ministry of Trade and Industry spokesperson said specific plans will be worked out with the World Economic Forum and the Singapore government will implement “strict public health requirements and safe management measures that attendees will have to comply with.”

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