SINGAPORE: The requirements for the air travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore are not designed to be “totally symmetrical”, said Singapore’s Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday (Nov 11), Mr Ong said both cities had agreed to the need for pre-departure COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests as a prerequisite for travel.
“But beyond that, we say that in each other's territories, I think we should have the flexibility to impose additional conditions should we want to, especially in the beginning,” he said.
Mr Ong was explaining the differences in requirements between the two cities.
For example, travellers from Singapore to Hong Kong are required to take a PCR test upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport, in addition to the test taken pre-departure in Singapore.
But for travel in the opposite direction - Hong Kong to Singapore - only a single PCR test within 72 hours of departure is needed.
Singapore also excludes children aged 12 and below from having to undergo the PCR test, while Hong Kong requires all travellers to be tested.
Other differences include the requirement for travellers from Hong Kong to Singapore to apply for an Air Travel pass between seven and 30 days prior to their arrival in Singapore.
Those travelling from Hong Kong to Singapore must also download and use the TraceTogether contact tracing mobile app on their smartphones for the duration of their trip, and not delete it for 14 days after leaving.
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Work permit and S-pass holders in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors are also excluded from travelling from Singapore to Hong Kong under the air travel bubble.
Mr Ong explained that this was also at the request of the Hong Kong authorities due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in foreign worker dormitories in Singapore earlier this year.
Their concern was understandable, he said, though he noted such cases had slowed to a “very small trickle” over the last two months.
“I certainly hope that in the next review, we can be more inclusive and include everybody,” he said.
When asked if Singapore was pursuing similar arrangements with other countries or territories, Mr Ong said it was a chicken-and-egg situation.
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“I think many other territories and countries are also watching this air travel bubble, I believe they are really watching it to see how Hong Kong and Singapore cooperate and what are the results. We are quite determined to work hard and make sure it succeeds,” he said, adding the bubble could be a reference point for other arrangements.
Mr Ong said that should the Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble be successful, he hopes to be able to “trilateralise” and “quadlateralise” the arrangement to add more members and create a more meaningful travel bubble.
For those who have already booked flights to Hong Kong, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore director-general Kevin Shum said they should contact airlines to rebook their flights to one of those covered under the air travel bubble arrangements.
Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are currently the only two airlines that have flights designated for air travel bubble passengers.
“I suspect travellers may well be quite careful in the beginning, before they gradually become more confident,” said Mr Ong.
He added that while fares were a commercial decision by the airlines, he hoped that airlines would price fares accordingly to allow for air travel to gradually improve.
Describing the air travel bubble as the first step in rebuilding the aviation hubs of both cities, Mr Ong acknowledged that there were still lingering concerns about reopening Singapore to travel given the current pandemic.
“So it's very important that we monitor the situation in various places, in all our partners all the time,” he said.