Travellers hail relaunch of Singapore-HK air travel bubble
But with advent of virus variants, some adopt wait-and-see approach on making flight bookings
It has been more than a year since the pandemic hit and Mr Irving Ma is itching to travel.
The 26-year-old's staycation experience in Singapore has not given him the "full travel experience", and speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Mr Ma, a recruitment associate consultant, said: "It has been so long since I last travelled overseas, so I'll definitely go (to Hong Kong) if I can."
News of the announcement yesterday by the Ministry of Transport (MOT) that the long-delayed air travel bubble (ATB) between Singapore and Hong Kong will be relaunched on May 26 is welcome news to him, even if he is still waiting to see if the arrangement will actually take off before making a firm commitment to make a trip.
There will be one flight a day in each direction during the first two weeks, it was announced, each with a maximum capacity of 200 passengers.
This will be increased to two flights a day from June 10.
While there are no restrictions on the purpose of travel and no requirements for a controlled itinerary or sponsorship, passengers from both sides must test negative for Covid-19 before boarding the direct flights, and take a test on arrival as well.
Those using Hong Kong passports leaving the territory must be fully vaccinated before taking the bubble flights. This will not apply to Singapore citizens and others using non-Hong Kong travel documents for departure.
Singapore Airlines said the first bubble flight to Hong Kong, SQ882, will depart on May 26 at 8.40am.
Cathay Pacific said its first bubble flight, CX759, will depart Hong Kong for Singapore at 9.10am on May 26.
Originally slated to start in November last year, the ATB was postponed by both countries due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in the territory.
The situation in Hong Kong has since improved, with few local unlinked cases over the past few weeks.
If successful, the travel bubble will be the first of its kind for both cities.
It will be the third one in the world after similar arrangements between Taiwan and Palau, and Australia and New Zealand.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday: "I think the Hong Kong-Singapore bubble is still quite unique in the sense that it is between two cities which are aviation hubs as well as financial services hubs.
"So, to get this bubble up successfully, I think, will have a significant signalling effect to the rest of the world."
A search on Singapore Airlines' website yesterday showed that tickets from Singapore to Hong Kong under the ATB are already sold out until June 4.
Seats on Cathay Pacific's air bubble flights are also selling fast.
A spokesman for SIA said: "The decision to start an air travel bubble is an important milestone in our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and helps to establish confidence in the safe resumption of international air travel with the necessary protocols in place."
Despite tickets selling quickly, some would-be travellers remain cautious.
Mr Sam Wu, who booked tickets to visit his family in Hong Kong last year under the first air travel bubble only to see it scrapped, said he would not be rushing to book tickets this time around.
The tertiary institution administrator in his 40s told TNP: "With the new strains (of coronavirus) coming out, everything is unpredictable, and I'm not exactly holding my breath."
However, he said his sister, her husband, and their three kids, who live in Hong Kong, have already booked tickets to visit him in Singapore during the June school holidays.
Hong Kong resident Hanif Li, 49, who is looking forward to visiting his business partners in Singapore, is also taking a wait-and-see approach.
The business and marketing director, who has been fully vaccinated, told TNP: "As much as I want to travel immediately, if the bubble gets cancelled before, or worse, suspended while I am abroad, I cannot afford the time lost in quarantine."
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said the travel bubble will be suspended for at least 14 days if the seven-day moving average of daily unlinked Covid-19 cases exceeds five in either city.
Requirements for travellers
- Pre-departure (within 72 hours) and on-arrival tests for Covid-19; tests to be booked and paid for by travellers.
- Hong Kong passport holders have to wait 14 days after they get their second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to be eligible.
- Non-Hong Kong passport holders do not need to be vaccinated to take the bubble flights.
- In the 14 days before leaving Hong Kong or Singapore, travellers must not have visited any other place. This does not include a stay-home notice or mandatory quarantine periods.
- Travellers are to download contact tracing apps for the city they will be heading to - Singapore's TraceTogether or Hong Kong's LeaveHomeSafe. - THE STRAITS TIMES