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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.

A debate over the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine is emerging between Hong Kong and Singapore, adding another layer of uncertainty to the long-awaited travel bubble between the two cities.

Professor Wallace Lau Chak-sing, convenor of Hong Kong’s advisory panel on coronavirus vaccines, on Thursday defended the efficacy of the mainland China-produced jabs, a day after the city state took issue with the lack of data about their efficacy against the Delta variant.

Hong Kong, where about 688,000 residents have taken Sinovac, confirmed three imported infections on Thursday – one each from Russia, the Philippines and Britain – marking 31 straight days without a local case. The additions took the city’s overall tally to 11,948 cases with 212 related deaths.

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Speaking on a local radio show, Lau said recent data showed that the Chinese vaccine was effective against more transmissive variants of the coronavirus, and noted that the World Health Organization had previously endorsed the drug, saying it was effective in preventing serious illness and death.

“I believe different countries want to ask for different data from the vaccine manufacturer. For example, in the early stages, Hong Kong focused on the efficacy of the jabs from Sinovac on the virus before variants had developed,” he said.

Singapore already leaves residents who take the Sinovac vaccine off its tally of inoculated residents. Photo: AFP

A Sinovac spokesman told Reuters last month that preliminary results from blood tests of people vaccinated with its jab showed it had a neutralising effect against the Delta variant, particularly following a third booster shot, but did not provide detailed data.

On Wednesday, however, Singaporean health minister Ong Ye Kung stressed the lack of information available about Sinovac’s performance.

“[Sinovac] is being used in places like UAE and Indonesia that are now experiencing Delta variant [outbreaks], but data is not coming out of these places,” he said. “We don’t really have a medical or scientific basis … to establish how effective Sinovac is in terms of infection and severe illnesses.”

Singaporeans choosing the Sinovac jab are already not counted towards the city’s vaccination tally, as it has never been approved by local regulators.

The much-delayed travel bubble has faced other complications as well, with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor recently saying the city was looking into the implications of Singapore’s planned move away from a zero-infection strategy to “living with” the virus.

The bubble’s launch has already been postponed twice – in November last year, and again in May – due to fresh outbreaks.

Responding to Singapore’s latest policy shift, a Hong Kong government source on Thursday said local officials were still in conversation with their counterparts and remained determined to move forward with a travel corridor.

The city state’s vision for a return to normal includes proposals to allow quarantine-free travel and large gatherings, and even to potentially halt massive

HONG KONG/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore due to open on May 26 has been postponed for a second time, officials said on Monday, after a spike in cases in Singapore derailed the plan for quarantine-free travel between the financial hubs.

The bubble was initially slated to begin in November last year but was called off after a rise in cases in Hong Kong. Under the plan, travellers would have to test negative for COVID-19 before departure and on arrival to move freely between the cities.

Hong Kong and Singapore have been largely successful in keeping the virus at bay over the past year with strict border controls and effective tracing of infections but new cases in Singapore this month have dashed hopes for the air travel bubble (ATB).

“In light of the recent increase in unlinked community cases, Singapore is unable to meet the criteria to start the Singapore-Hong Kong ATB,” Singapore’s Ministry of Transport said in a statement.

But both sides remained committed to launching the bubble safely, it said. The Hong Kong government said another announcement would come on or before June 13.

Singapore announced on Friday its strictest curbs on social gatherings and public activities for months due to a rise in community infections in recent days.

Hong Kong has seen its daily cases drop to low single digits while the government has relaxed some coronavirus rules for vaccinated people in a move to incentivise residents to get inoculated.

The travel bubble was due to start with one flight a day into each city, with up to 200 travellers on each flight.

Officials had said that if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases was more than five for either Singapore or Hong Kong, the scheme would be suspended.

For Hong Kong, which has banned non-residents coming to the city since March last year, the deal with Singapore would have been its first travel link with another city.

Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines were due to be the carriers offering the initial flights.

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; writing by Farah Master; editing by Robert Birsel)

Bloomberg

The World Economy Is Suddenly Running Low on Everything

(Bloomberg) — A year ago, as the pandemic ravaged country after country and economies shuddered, consumers were the ones panic-buying. Today, on the rebound, it’s companies furiously stocking up. Mattress producers to car manufacturers to aluminum foil makers are buying more material than they need to survive the breakneck speed at which demand for goods is recovering and assuage that primal fear of running out. The corporate buying and hoarding is pushing supply chains to the brink of seizing up. Shortages, transportation bottlenecks and price spikes are nearing the highest levels in recent memory, raising concern that a supercharged global economy will stoke inflation.Copper, iron ore and steel. Corn, coffee, wheat and soybeans. Lumber, semiconductors, plastic and cardboard for packaging. The world is seemingly low on all of it. “You name it, and we have a shortage on it,” Tom Linebarger, chairman and chief executive of engine and generator manufacturer Cummins Inc., said on a call this month. Clients are “trying to get everything they can because they see high demand,” Jennifer Rumsey, the Columbus, Indiana-based company’s president, said. “They think it’s going to extend into next year.”The difference between the big crunch of 2021 and past supply disruptions is the sheer magnitude of it, and the fact that there is — as far as anyone can tell — no clear end in sight. Big or small, few businesses are spared. Europe’s largest fleet of trucks, Girteka Logistics, says there’s been a struggle to find enough capacity. Monster Beverage Corp. of Corona, California, is dealing with an aluminum can scarcity. Hong Kong’s MOMAX Technology Ltd. is delaying production of a new product because of a dearth of semiconductors.Further exacerbating the situation is an unusually long and growing list of calamities that have rocked commodities in recent months. A freak accident in the Suez Canal backed up global shipping in March. Drought has wreaked havoc upon agricultural crops. A deep freeze and mass blackout wiped out energy and petrochemicals operations across the central U.S. in February. Less than two weeks ago, hackers brought down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S., driving gasoline prices above $3 a gallon for the first time since 2014. Now India’s massive Covid-19 outbreak is threatening its biggest ports. For anyone who thinks it’s all going to end in a few months, consider the somewhat obscure U.S. economic indicator known as the Logistics Managers’ Index. The gauge is built on a monthly survey of corporate supply chiefs that asks where they see inventory, transportation and warehouse expenses — the three key components of managing supply chains — now and in 12 months. The current index is at its second-highest level in records dating back to 2016, and the future gauge shows little respite a year from now. The index has proven unnervingly accurate in the past, matching up with actual costs about 90% of the time.To Zac Rogers, who helps compile the index as an assistant

A long-awaited quarantine-free travel agreement between Hong Kong and Singapore due to begin on May 26 after several false starts may not go ahead due to a rise in coronavirus cases in Singapore.

Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, said Friday there’s a “high chance” the so-called travel bubble might not proceed as scheduled, dealing another blow to a border-opening plan that was initially set to happen last November.

Hong Kong and Singapore have both taken strict measures to combat virus outbreaks that in terms of caseloads pale in comparison to other parts of the world: Hong Kong has reported a total of 11,817 cases and 210 deaths, while Singapore’s had about 63,000 cases — mostly in worker dormitories — and 31 deaths. Countries elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Australia and New Zealand, which recently launched a bilateral travel bubble, have kept virus cases low with stringent border controls.

Singapore is now trying to combat a growing virus outbreak, which includes a cluster at the city’s iconic Changi Airport. Dozens of cases have been linked to the airport, prompting the closure of two terminals and the Jewel complex.

Friday’s comments from Yau could dash the hopes of many people planning to fly between the two financial hubs for business and to reunite with friends and family for the first time in months. Even if the bubble does go ahead, visitors to Singapore will likely encounter tighter social-distancing restrictions given the outbreak there.

The bubble was due to start last November but was shelved then because of an outbreak in Hong Kong.

“We hope to give a more perfect answer early next week as to when and the bubble arrangement would be launched or otherwise,” Yau said at a briefing Friday following a conversation with his counterparts in Singapore.

“The Singapore minister told me that there might be a high chance that the bubble arrangement may not be able to resume under the agreed mechanism as we scheduled on May 26,” Yau said, referring to Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kong, who is moving on from his role this weekend following a cabinet reshuffle. “We will be reviewing the situation particularly in the next couple of days,” Yau said.

Singapore Airlines Ltd.was down 2.5% at 1:03 p.m., while Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. was little changed. The two carriers are scheduled to operate flights in the travel bubble.

Bubble Plan Details
Eligibility

People in Hong Kong and Singapore, irrespective of nationality

No travel to other places in the 14 days prior to departure

Testing Negative result collected within 72 hours of flying
Vaccine Hong Kong residents need to finish two vaccine doses at least 14 days before flight. Exceptions include under 16s, people who can’t get vaccinated due to medical reasons, passengers using non-Hong Kong travel documents and travelers who have been in Hong Kong less than 90 days before departure
Flight arrangements May 26 to June 9, one daily flight with 200

Flights for the initial phase of the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble have sold out in both directions, according to the websites of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd.

The bubble is due to open on May 26, and demand was always going to outstrip supply given there will only be one return flight per day between the two financial hubs, and with capacity limited at 200 travelers.

There were no departure flights available Wednesday morning on Cathay’s website until June 5. Searches for designated bubble flights with Singapore Airlines yielded nothing until the agreement broadens to the carrier offering daily flights from June 9.

An economy-class Singapore Airlines ticket for a flight leaving on June 16 and returning from Hong Kong on June 18, for example, is available for $466. Cathay has a basic economy bubble flight from Hong Kong on June 16 and returning on June 18 priced at $380. The Cathay flight leaving Hong Kong on June 5 and returning June 8 costs $902.

Hong Kong and Singapore announced details of the plan on Monday. Initially due to open last November, the travel bubble was shelved due to a jump in Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong. After a couple of more false starts and months of negotiations, the plan is back on track and will allow people to travel between the cities without having to quarantine. Flights could be suspended if infections rise above five in either city for an extended period.

The first Cathay flight is slated to leave Hong Kong at 9:10 a.m. on May 26. Singapore Airlines’ departure that day is 8:40 a.m.

Topline

Hong Kong and Singapore agreed to open a quarantine-free travel bubble between the two cities that will finally open on May 26, coming six months after the original plan was scuttled following a spike in Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong.

Key Facts

In simultaneous press conferences on Monday, Hong Kong’s Commerce Secretary Edward Yau and Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Ku announced the bubble will begin with one flight a day into each city, with up to 200 passengers on each flight.

Passengers traveling in the quarantine-free bubble will be required to test negative for Covid-19 before departure and on arrival.

Hong Kong residents, however, will also be allowed to fly to Singapore with no restrictions at least 14 days after they have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The bubble may be suspended if the seven-day average of locally acquired Covid-19 cases in either city crosses five.

Key Background

Quarantine-free travel bubbles offer a lifeline for families, businesses and airlines during the pandemic. While several other nations have attempted such a system things haven’t always gone to plan. The Hong Kong-Singapore 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. Strict pandemic protocols have dissuaded people in both cities from traveling outside and this has severely impacted the business of the two flag carriers—Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific. Last week, New Zealand was forced to pause its travel bubble with one Australian state, just days after it opened, following an outbreak in the city of Perth in Western Australia. 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 travelers arriving from Estonia following an outbreak in the country.

Further Reading

Hong Kong, Singapore to start long-delayed travel bubble next month (Reuters)

Singapore, Hong Kong to relaunch travel bubble on May 26 (CNA)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

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Image: Getty

The Hong Kong and Singapore governments have jointly announced that quarantine-free international flights between the two jurisdictions will begin on May 26.

Under the terms of the air travel bubble (ATB), travellers departing from Hong Kong to Singapore are required to download, register, and use Singapore’s TraceTogether mobile app. Meanwhile, travellers from Singapore to Hong Kong will be required to download and use Hong Kong’s LeaveHomeSafe (LHS) application, and relevant records must be retained for 31 days after departing Hong Kong.

Travellers within the ATB must also test negative to COVID-19 both before and upon arrival, and cannot have visited anywhere else other than the two cities for two weeks before their flights, under the terms of the travel bubble.

Additionally, Hong Kong travellers will be required to have had two doses of coronavirus vaccine at least 14 days before their flight to qualify, the governments said, noting it as a way to encourage Hong Kong citizens to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

The travel bubble arrangement between the two locations was agreed to in November last year, and designated flights were originally scheduled to begin in the same month. However, the launch of the travel bubble was delayed when COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong worsened.

“With the gradual stabilisation of Hong Kong’s epidemic situation since mid-February and satisfactory epidemic control in Singapore all along, the two governments consider that now is a suitable time to re-launch the ATB,” the Singapore government said.

When the ATB commences, one flight a day will travel in each direction, with passenger numbers to be capped at 200 each flight for the first two weeks, with numbers to be reviewed thereafter.

Both sides added they will continue to “closely monitor” the pandemic in the lead up to the launch date.

“Our goal remains striking a right balance between public health and travel convenience so that the public will feel assured while providing certainty,” Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said.

“The re-launch of ATB not only meets the aspirations of the people and business communities on cross-border travel, but also signifies that gradual resumption of cross-border travel is achievable through mutual collaborations among different places.

“We will continue to maintain communication with the Singapore government and closely monitor the epidemic development of both places to ensure the smooth launch of ATB.”

Just last week, Australia and New Zealand resumed air travel. However, quarantine-free travel between Western Australia and New Zealand was paused over the weekend, following a COVID-19 outbreak in Perth that sent the state into a snap three-day lockdown to curb any potential spread.

A quarantine-free air travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will open on May 26, the governments said Monday, confirming a long-awaited reopening of connections between the two financial hubs.

To qualify for the flights, travelers from Hong Kong must have had two doses of coronavirus vaccine at least 14 days before, the government said in a statement. This is to encourage citizens to get vaccinated as soon as possible, it said. Travelers from both sides can’t have visited any other places two weeks before departure. Negative Covid-19 test results must be collected within 72 hours of flying.

From May 26 to June 9, there will be one flight a day from Hong Kong to Singapore with 200 travelers per aircraft and another from Singapore to Hong Kong, with the same number of passengers alloted. From June 10, there will be two flights a day from either side.

Preparations for the travel corridor have been stop-start since an initial plan to open it last November was shelved after coronavirus cases picked up in Hong Kong. A recent plan to announce its revival was canceled last week by Singapore, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Despite occasional flare-ups, including at a dormitory for migrant workers in Singapore last week, Covid-19 caseloads in both cities are low and life is returning to normal. Hong Kong will reopen bars later this week and lengthen restaurant opening hours, among other steps to ease social distancing. Bringing outbreaks under control was key to opening the travel bubble.

“Both sides will need to stay very vigilant in the next month, so that we can launch the first flights smoothly,” Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in the statement.

Hong Kong started its Covid-19 vaccination campaign in late February and had administered a total of about 1.28 million shots as of Sunday, while Singapore has done about 2.2 million doses. Hong Kong has a population of about 7.5 million people and Singapore’s is 5.7 million.

The two cities have tight restrictions on travel. Hong Kong is essentially off limits to non-residents and even they face lengthy stays in designated quarantine facilities upon arrival, which means that many people haven’t traveled at all since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago. That’s been reflected in Cathay’s numbers: the airline flew just 598 passengers a day on average in March.

Singapore last week eased restrictions on travelers from Hong Kong, who now can stay in home isolation for seven days rather than two weeks in a government-chosen hotel. Among its efforts to open up its borders, Singapore set up an area near Changi Airport to host business travelers without them needing to quarantine, provided they don’t leave the facility.

The plan comes as other parts of the world take steps to reopen more widely for travel. The European Union will recommend loosening restrictions to allow in fully vaccinated U.S. tourists this summer, the New York Times reported. Greece is starting to allow

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Hong Kong and Singapore will announce a start to their highly anticipated two-way air travel bubble as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the matter, after multiple delays.

Flights under the agreement — which allows people to travel quarantine free between the financial hubs — will begin from May 26, said the people, who asked not to be identified as they’re not authorized to speak publicly. The number of flights will be increased by June 26 if there aren’t further outbreaks in either city, one of the people said.

Hong Kong and Singapore have been working on the creation of a travel corridor for months after plans for a November start were shelved due to a virus flareup in the Chinese territory. A plan to announce its revival last week was also canceled at the last minute by the Singapore side, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

The Hong Kong government’s weekend press office didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment. Singapore’s transport ministry referred Bloomberg News to its most recent press release on the matter. Last week, Singapore and Hong Kong said they had not fixed a date to announce the resumption of the bubble, but “will do so once we are ready, hopefully very soon.”

While Covid-19 cases in the two places pale in comparison to many countries, strict requirements for the bubble to open meant outbreaks that would be regarded as small elsewhere were enough to halt progress.

Virus flareups in Hong Kong were the main reason for the months of delays. Now, after stemming a March outbreak centered on a gym, Hong Kong has been reporting only a handful of new infections a day, or low double-digits at most. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on April 12 that the virus was “obviously contained” in the city and encouraged more people to get vaccinated, dangling the prospect of looser rules on social distancing for those who were inoculated. Singapore averaged two new cases per week recently.

Sporadic outbreaks also complicated a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand. After many months in the making, a quarantine-free flight corridor between those two countries — which have largely eliminated the virus due to strict border curbs — opened on April 19.

The Hong Kong-Singapore agreement should unleash a torrent of pent-up demand from people eager to fly overseas and potentially do business in person after more than a year of the pandemic, though it is unclear yet the limited number of flights or seats that will be made available. The desire to travel in any way possible is reflected in the popularity of so-called cruises to nowhere in Singapore and tickets selling out for gimmicky dinners on parked aircraft.

Under previous travel bubble plans, flights will be operated by Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd.