Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble will be suspended if COVID-19 cases spike: Ong Ye Kung

Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble will be suspended if COVID-19 cases spike: Ong Ye Kung

Changi Airport passengers check in (2)
Passengers queue at a check-in counter at Singapore Changi Airport on Jun 8, 2020. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: If there is a spike in COVID-19 infection rates in Singapore or Hong Kong, the newly announced bilateral air travel bubble will be suspended, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (Oct 15).

“There should be a common understanding,” Mr Ong told reporters in response to a question on the precautions taken to safeguard Singapore when the new travel arrangement kicks in.

“We all want to control the virus and the epidemic but should there be unforeseen circumstances – a spike – I think we will have to suspend (the arrangement).”

He added that the new initiative – possibly the first two-way air travel bubble in the region and in the world - would be done “progressively, cautiously, steadily (and) safely” to open up the aviation sector.

“We have to try – both of us are important aviation hubs. We both know that aviation hub concerns the entire economy, not just the aviation industry, so hundreds and thousands of jobs are at stake.”

Both Singapore and Hong Kong will “probably have to agree to a certain incidence rate that both sides … are comfortable with”, said the minister, noting that a second wave of infections “is a possibility”.

“Should something like that happen, the agreement must have the ability to scale back at very short notice.”

READ: COVID-19: Singapore, Hong Kong reach in-principle agreement to establish bilateral air travel bubble

Authorities from Singapore and Hong Kong said on Thursday that they have reached an in-principle agreement to establish the bilateral air travel bubble.

This is different from reciprocal green lanes or fast lanes that are meant for official and essential business travel.

READ: Fast lane, green lane, air travel pass: What you need to know about Singapore's COVID-19 travel measures

Those travelling under the bubble will have no restrictions on their travel purposes and will not need to have a controlled itinerary. Travellers will also not be subject to quarantine or stay-home notice requirements. 

However, they will need to test negative on mutually recognised COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Travellers under this arrangement will also be required to go on flights dedicated to those travelling under the bubble.  

Noting that both cities have the same "risk profile" when it comes to COVID-19 transmission, Mr Ong said: “The risk of a Hong Konger bringing the virus into Changi Airport is not very different from someone coming from Jurong.”

He added: “To start with, the risks are low because we both have very low incidence rates but the way we replace (stay-home notices), quarantines and … controlled itineraries is through a test.

“We both agreed on pre-departure tests but each party can impose more tests if we like to."

These could include other “administrative arrangements” such as on-arrival tests or have travellers from Hong Kong download the TraceTogether mobile app when they are in Singapore, said the minister.

Quotas in terms of the number of travellers could also be implemented, Mr Ong said in response to a question from CNA.

“Yes, there should be quotas … These are details that we still have to sort out but we should start with a number that operationally we are comfortable with. As we stabilise the operation … we can consider increasing (the number),” he said.

At the moment, anyone who has spent 14 days in Singapore or Hong Kong will be eligible for the air travel bubble. The only exemption for now is foreign workers residing in dormitories here, according to the minister. 

More details of the air travel bubble will be worked out as Singapore and Hong Kong officials enter formal discussions, but Mr Ong hopes the new initiative could kick start in “weeks”.

“(This) is a small step but a significant one, because both Hong Kong and Singapore are regional (or) even global aviation hubs.

“For the two of us to be able to control the epidemic and come together to discuss and establish this air travel bubble, I think hopefully this sets a model or template for us to forge more of such relationships.”

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Source: CNA/sk(gs)

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