HONG KONG — Travelers arriving in Hong Kong from mainland China will no longer need to quarantine, Hong Kong’s top official confirmed on Aug. 31, easing curbs imposed after outbreaks of the coronavirus on the mainland.

Starting Sept. 1, people who haven’t been to medium- or high-risk areas on the mainland or Macao can enter the city, capped at 2,000 travelers a day, chief executive Carrie Lam said in a news conference. Travelers will still need a negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival and must take several tests while in Hong Kong to ensure they’re not infected.

Hong Kong halted quarantine-free travel in early August and imposed a mandatory quarantine period of seven or 14 days, depending on the traveler’s vaccination status. Hong Kong’s “zero-COVID” strategy has seen authorities impose strict border restrictions and ban flights from extremely high-risk countries, in the hope that no local cases would allow it to reopen borders with mainland China.

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Mainland China remains closed to most travelers

Currently, mainland China has strict border restrictions that allow only Chinese nationals or those with valid residence permits and visas to enter the country, and all travelers are required to quarantine at least 14 days. Since the beginning of the pandemic, most Hong Kongers haven’t been able to freely enter mainland China.

Restrictions eased further Wednesday, with mainland residents able to enter the city without quarantine via the Shenzhen Bay port and the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, capped at 1,000 visitors each, Lam said last week. These visitors will also need to test negative before traveling.

The changes, part of a “Come2HK” plan announced Aug. 31, are expected to boost the city’s tourism industry, which took a beating during months of political strife in 2019 and pandemic-related border restrictions. Tourist numbers fell by as much as 99% in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The much-awaited Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble officially burst as both governments announced to drop all plans for the bilateral agreement. Discussions on the Air Travel Bubble (ATB) began in the latter part of 2020 but launch plans have been postponed several times. The last scheduled launch for the ATB was in May but it was once again suspended due to an uptick in Covid-19 cases in The Lion City. 

Both cities have decided to halt the agreement because of differing anti-epidemic strategies. Under the initial agreement, the ATB will be suspended if the seven-day moving average of unlinked community cases in either city increases to more than five. According to the Hong Kong government with Singapore currently moving towards a new strategy of building a ‘Covid-resilient’ nation, the basic premises that underpin the ATB have changed. 

Though the travel bubble is no longer happening, Hongkongers may soon travel to Singapore without the need for quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status since Hong Kong falls under ‘very low risk countries and regions’. The same applies for Mainland China (except Jiangsu province), Macau, New Zealand, and Taiwan. Travellers from Hong Kong will be allowed to enter Singapore quarantine-free starting August 21.

But since Singapore falls under ‘medium-risk’ Group B specified places in Hong Kong, unvaccinated inbound travellers returning from Singapore will have to undergo compulsory quarantine for 21 days while vaccinated travellers will have to quarantine for 14 days in a designated hotel.

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A Singapore Airlines plane is parked beside Scoots passenger planes on the terminal tarmac at Changi International Airport in Singapore on March 15, 2021.

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore is reopening its borders to more destinations, and some travelers from Hong Kong, Macao, Germany and Brunei will soon be able to enter without having to serve quarantine.

The city-state announced the lifting of border restrictions for visitors from Hong Kong and Macao, who can apply for entry immediately and enter Singapore as soon as Aug. 26, according to Transport Minister S. Iswaran.

Singapore will also be opening a so-called vaccinated travel lane with Germany and Brunei in September, the national aviation authority said. It means Singaporeans can travel to Germany and Brunei, while visitors from those countries can travel to Singapore without quarantine, if the conditions are met.

“As an open and small economy, our connectivity with the rest of the world is essential, if not existential. That is why we need to start reopening,” Iswaran told reporters. “The longer our borders remain closed, the greater the risk of lasting damage to our economy, our livelihoods and our status as an aviation hub.”

Singapore has unilaterally opened its borders to travelers from Taiwan, New Zealand and most visitors from mainland China. The Southeast Asian country closed its borders to Australia and Vietnam after a resurgence of the virus in those countries.

Hong Kong and Macao

Travelers from Hong Kong and Macao, regardless of vaccination status, can now apply for an air travel pass to enter Singapore.

They will need to take a Covid test when they arrive in Singapore, and self-isolate until they receive a negative test result. There will be no need to serve quarantine.

Visitors need to have spent the last 21 consecutive days in Hong Kong or Macao before traveling to Singapore.

This arrangement is unilateral, which means people traveling from Singapore to Hong Kong or Macao will be subject to the rules of each destination.

For example, Singapore is classified as a medium-risk country in Hong Kong, and people arriving from Singapore will have to be quarantined for seven days to 21 days, depending on their vaccination status, among other factors.

Germany and Brunei

Singapore’s arrangement with Germany and Brunei allows only fully vaccinated travelers to skip quarantines. They will have to take four Covid tests — one two days before departure, one upon arrival, one on day three and another on day seven.

If the travel lane with Germany is successfully launched in September, it will be the first time Singapore residents can travel for leisure to any country without quarantine since the city-state closed its borders last year. Singapore postponed its travel bubble with Hong Kong twice because of rising Covid cases.

Applications to travel to Singapore from Germany or Brunei open on Sept. 1, and conditions include:

  • Traveling on designated, nonstop flights for the vaccinated travel lane (VTL);
  • Remaining in Germany or Brunei for 21 consecutive days

Hong Kong is “no longer in travel talks” with other places because of differences in approach to containing Covid-19, the city’s health minister has revealed.

Sophia Chan Siu-chee on Saturday said the government was still aiming to strike a balance between residents’ expectation of “zero infections”, while avoiding becoming “completely cut off” from the outside world.

The long-awaited travel bubble with Singapore was ditched for good on Thursday, after the city state moved towards a policy of “living with the virus”, in contrast to Hong Kong’s stricter approach.

Hong Kong recorded three imported cases on Saturday from Kazakhstan, Venezuela and Nigeria, bringing the overall infection tally to 12,052 with 212 related fatalities.

“From my knowledge, Hong Kong is no longer in [travel bubble] talks with other countries, although the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau might have more details on the matter,” Chan told a radio programme.

The bureau later said in a reply to the Post that the government would continue to communicate with places overseas that had close economic and trade relations with Hong Kong to facilitate cross-border travel based on the pandemic situation.

Chan said being able to discuss travel bubbles with other places required a similar containment of the coronavirus pandemic in both places, as well as similar infection control strategies.

But Chan said although reopening the borders was important, it would not be ideal if any imported variant cases went into the community because of relaxed rules.

“Zero infections is still our target and we have basically achieved that for now,” she said. “We believe that many Hongkongers also have such an expectation towards the government.

“A balance needs to be struck, although Hong Kong as an international city should not be completely cut off from the outside world.”

In March, commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said the government had written to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand to explore quarantine-free travel bubble arrangements, with progress dependent on how the pandemic developed.

On Thursday, the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong urged authorities to relax strict quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers, warning a recent tightening of the rules could threaten the city’s status as an international business hub.

Earlier this week, the government elevated 15 countries to its “high-risk” category, meaning significantly tougher entry requirements and the lengthening of quarantine periods to 21 days for anyone arriving from those destinations.

Australia has been moved from low to medium risk, with fully vaccinated travellers now facing two weeks of isolation.

The chamber said many countries where the virus had recently surged had seen far fewer critical cases and deaths than last year, because of their accelerated vaccination programmes, adding their airports remained open and vaccinated travellers were not required to quarantine.

The health minister was also asked about the quarantine exemption granted to Hollywood star Nicole Kidman and some of her crew ahead of the filming of Expats, a television drama for Amazon.

Chan reiterated previous government defence of the controversial decision,

Vaccinated tourists from Hong Kong, Macao, Germany and Brunei will soon be allowed into the country without needing to enter quarantine but some restrictions still apply. Video / Mediacorp

Singapore has announced they will be reopening their borders to allow in vaccinated tourists from a range of destinations, including residents from Hong Kong, Macao, Germany and Brunei.

Travellers from the listed countries will be able to enter Singapore from September 8 without needing to enter quarantine, essentially meaning they can bypass the isolation requirement if they test negative to four Covid-19 tests.

The testing requirements for the new travel lanes mean each person will require a pre-departure test within 48 hours of their scheduled flight, an on-arrival test at Changi Airport, and post-arrival tests on days three and seven at a designated clinic in Singapore.

If a foreign visitor fails or refuses the tests, they may face charges under the Infectious Diseases Act.

If someone tests positive after landing into Singapore, they will be issued a stay-home notice to be quarantined in a dedicated facility, authorities said.

Under the new travel order, a person must be fully vaccinated for two weeks after they have received both doses of either Pfizer, Moderna or other vaccines listed under the World Health Organisation (WHO) emergency use list, such as Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

In June, as one of the world’s most successful countries at combating Covid-19, Singapore said it would make major changes to the way it managed the pandemic.

Travellers from Germany and the EU can now bypass quarantine requirements. Photo / Unsplash, Joe Green
Travellers from Germany and the EU can now bypass quarantine requirements. Photo / Unsplash, Joe Green

The city state of Singapore has stated Covid-19 will be treated like other endemic diseases such as the flu.

There will be no goals of zero transmission. Quarantine will be dumped for vaccinated travellers and close contact of cases will not have to isolate. It also plans to no longer announce daily case numbers.

Senior Singaporean ministers have said it is the “new normal” of “living with covid”.

“The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst,” wrote Singapore’s Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in an editorial in the Straits Times this week.

“It means that the virus will continue to mutate, and thereby survive in our community.”

Having never returned to zero cases, Singapore now no longer wants to.

German Ambassador to Singapore, Dr Norbert Riedel, welcomed travellers from Singapore on the two-way bridge into the Schengen zone.

“My fellow Germans have a very positive image of Singapore and the achievements of its people, and I am sure that Singaporeans will be welcomed with an open mind and cheerful spirit,” he told The Straits Times.

Singapore never returned to zero cases. No, it appears it never wants to. Photo / Unsplash, Swapnil Bapat
Singapore never returned to zero cases. No, it appears it never wants to. Photo / Unsplash, Swapnil Bapat

Like most countries, Singapore had an initial peak of cases last year, topping

Hong Kong (CNN) — Before the pandemic, Hongkongers were among the most well-traveled people on Earth.

In 2019, residents made 94.7 million departures, according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department.

The year prior, they spent an estimated $26.5 billion — making it the world’s 11th largest tourism market in terms of spending, based on United Nations figures.

Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and mainland China made regular appearances on weekend itineraries and business routes, while Europe, North America and Australia lured Hongkongers for longer getaways.

But since the pandemic began, residents have been effectively grounded due to a mix of travel bans and one of the world’s longest quarantines.

Fully inoculated arrivals must undergo self-funded quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 7 to 21 days, as of August 9.

Hope for any forthcoming travel bubbles has waxed and waned at the same time. Authorities dangled the possibility of an agreement with Singapore twice before shelving it indefinitely in May.

On the other hand, Hong Kong’s safety measures have kept infection rates low, with just 12,020 total cases and 212 deaths in the city of 7.5 million as of August 10.

And while thankful to be safe, some residents feel jealous, dejected and outright angry as they watch other parts of the world reopen.

“At first, I felt lucky to be living in Hong Kong. I felt proud of how we handled the pandemic as a city and fortunate that we didn’t have serious home lockdowns. But now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction,” Liza, an employee at an international bank who was born and raised in Hong Kong, tells CNN Travel. (She did not want her last name used because of her employer’s media policies.)

“Whether to see family abroad or to take a break from our very busy, stressful lives, travel is extremely important to me. It’s the reason I work and save money — to have something to look forward to.”

An enviable safety record

When the first case emerged in the city in January 2020, the community set the tone by donning masks, working from home, heightening sanitization measures and social distancing.

In March 2020, while the US and Europe confronted devastating outbreaks, the Hong Kong government rolled out a slew of safety measures: the city shut the borders to non-residents, limited gatherings to four people, halved restaurant capacity, extended school closures and temporarily shut down clubs, karaoke lounges, bars, gyms and beauty salons.

A couple takes in the Hong Kong sunset on July 30, 2020.

A couple takes in the Hong Kong sunset on July 30, 2020.

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Since then, officials have flicked restrictions off and on in the face of second, third and fourth waves.

Some rules — like compulsory mask-wearing and group dining limits — have been widely accepted as prudent.

Others, such as a ban on birth partners in delivery rooms, surprise district-wide lockdowns, beach closures and rapidly changing travel restrictions, have drawn intense debate.

“Coming off the back of the 2019 protests, then experiencing pandemic restrictions

Much-delayed corridor plans ran afoul of case spikes and “differences in the anti-epidemic strategies”

The governments of Singapore and Hong Kong have ended efforts to establish an air travel bubble between the two destinations. In statements confirming the decision to halt further discussions, both countries indicated that policy changes in the fight against COVID-19 had made a travel bubble agreement unworkable.

“In Singapore, a substantial proportion of our population is fully vaccinated,” read a statement from Singapore’s ministry of transport. “Hong Kong too is progressively vaccinating its population. Both sides are focused on keeping our populations safe and preventing the risk of imported cases.”

However, the ministry said Singapore has shifted its strategy toward becoming “a COVID-resilient nation,” the statement continued. “Against this backdrop, both parties agreed that it would not be possible to launch or sustain the ATB in its present form.”

Officials of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region cited “differences in the anti-epidemic strategies currently adopted by the two places.” Hong Kong said that Singapore’s new strategy meant that “the basic premises that underpin the ATB have changed.”

The two countries had originally planned to start the corridor in November 2020. However a spike in COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong pushed the launch date to May, only to be postponed again because Singapore saw a spike in the number of cases. In June Singapore’s ministry of transport said it would revisit the possibility of a travel bubble with Hong Kong in July, but the latest announcement appears to scuttle the plan for good.

Notwithstanding, Singapore has announced that beginning August 21, it will unilaterally allow travelers from Hong Kong to enter without being required to quarantine. However restrictions remain in place for travelers arriving into Hong Kong from Singapore, although “Hong Kong will continue to consider adjusting its border measures to facilitate travelers from Singapore to enter Hong Kong,” according to the Singapore ministry of transport.

At the outset of the pandemic, the industry had looked at air travel bubbles as one way to safely resume international flights, but thus far, the policies have not played out in the real world of SARS-CoV-2. The failure of Singapore-Hong Kong corridor follows the suspension of the Australia-New Zealand travel bubble in July.

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Singapore and Hong Kong have mutually agreed to cease discussions over an air travel bubble with the two jurisdictions adopting vastly different strategies in emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble had originally been scheduled to launch on 22 November 2020, with one charter flight carrying a maximum of 200 passengers to depart each day initially, rising to two flights per day from 7 December. The plan was postponed due to rising COVID-19 case numbers in Hong Kong, then again in May 2021 as cases rose in Singapore.

Officials had planned to review the status of the travel bubble in late August but announced Thursday that this would no longer be the case.

“In Singapore, a substantial proportion of our population is fully vaccinated,” the Ministry of Transport said in a statement. “Hong Kong too is progressively vaccinating its population.

“Both sides are focused on keeping our populations safe and preventing the risk of imported cases but our strategies differ, with Singapore now taking steps towards becoming a COVID-resilient nation.

“Against this backdrop, both parties agreed that it would not be possible to launch or sustain the ATB in its present form.”

That decision hasn’t stopped Singapore from adding Hong Kong and Macau to its list of Category 1 nations, allowing visitors from the two SARs to enter without needing to quarantine as of 11.59pm tonight.

Although that measure won’t be reciprocated for now, the Ministry said, “Singapore and Hong Kong will continue to explore new ways of strengthening connectivity and links with each other, and revive the air travel between our two major international aviation hubs.”

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A long-awaited travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will have to wait considerably longer after both countries announced Tuesday that discussions would not resume until late August.

Having already been postponed twice – first in November 2020 then again in May 2021 – recent talks have been put on hold again due to increasing COVID-19 case numbers in Singapore that have seen the sovereign state this week return to phase two “heightened alert” restrictions.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government told the South China Morning Post Tuesday that, “The condition for launching the air travel bubble cannot be met for the time being.

“Both sides agreed that a review of the way forward can be conducted in late August, taking into account the effectiveness of the enhanced infection control measures implemented by Singapore and the global situation at that time.”

Singapore’s Transport Ministry added, “Both parties will remain in close contact and monitor the public health situation in both places before taking stock in late August on the [air travel bubble].”

Singapore reported 182 new community cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, most linked to a local fishery port.

The spike comes two weeks after Hong Kong expressed hesitation over Singapore’s plan to start transitioning to a new normal by opening its borders to tourists by September.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at the time that Singapore remains the SAR’s “priority candidate” with which to resume international travel but added, “We need to understand more about that new strategy and whether it will have any impact on the arrangements that we have devised.”

Hong Kong and Singapore had originally planned to launch a travel bubble on 22 November 2020, with one charter flight carrying a maximum of 200 passengers to depart each day initially, rising to two flights per day from 7 December. The plan was postponed due to rising COVID-19 case numbers in Hong Kong, then again in May 2021 as cases rose in Singapore.

Negotiations between Hong Kong and Singapore over their much-delayed travel bubble are being hobbled by disagreements over antibody tests and vaccination rules against Covid-19, the Post has learned.

Sources familiar with the discussions on Tuesday said it was proposed that a unilateral decision by Hong Kong to require all of its residents to have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine at least a fortnight before departure be extended to Singaporeans.

Under the bubble, travellers from both cities would need to be fully inoculated, but the two governments have not agreed on vaccination rules.

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Another obstacle was a plan by Hong Kong to impose antibody tests on inbound travellers, one source revealed. The Hong Kong government attempted to partially align the bubble with a recent initiative to tie antibody levels to shorter mandatory quarantine periods for all incoming visitors.

Spikes in coronavirus cases twice delayed the much-awaited travel corridor, in November last year and then in May, but the recent hold-up is over the stumbling blocks.

“There are some sticking points,” the source said. “For example, the Singapore public regards the antibody test as intravenous and are less receptive to it.”

Both sides agreed to give it their best shot to ensure the travel bubble took off. But an insider said there were no plans for an announcement yet.

Tests link Hong Kong airport worker’s Covid-19 infection to four Russian cases

A source working on the travel arrangement at Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways also said the team had not been told about any announcement.

Also complicating matters is Singapore’s intention to shift away from seeking to achieve zero cases and towards treating Covid-19 as endemic, as it becomes increasingly apparent that there is no credible route to eliminating the virus completely.

Under this new approach, the city state will rely on vaccinations, frequent testing, and the use of new and effective therapeutic drugs as a basis for reopening its economy and allowing for quarantine-free travel.

The health ministry will also pivot away from reporting daily Covid-19 infection numbers, and focus instead on trends and the number of severely ill people, similar to how the flu is monitored.

“However, this is a public health concern for Hong Kong,” another source said.

The city’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, last month floated a plan to shorten the time fully vaccinated people with antibodies who also test negative for the virus must spend in quarantine. Scientists, however, still cannot conclusively agree on whether the presence of antibodies gives a person immunity to Covid-19.

Singapore also has different views on the efficacy of the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, one of two available in Hong Kong along with German firm BioNTech’s jab.

In Singapore, the government offered free jabs made by Pfizer-BioNTech