HONG KONG -- Hong Kong and Singapore have agreed to launch a travel bubble from May 26.
If all goes to plan, the long-delayed scheme will allow travelers to fly between two of Asia’s largest financial hubs without having to undergo quarantine.
Both Hong Kong and Singapore have brought community transmission largely under control and it will be the second major air route to open since Asia-Pacific closed its borders last year to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Last week Australia and New Zealand opened two-way quarantine-free travel, prompting plenty of emotional scenes as families and friends were finally able to reunite after more than a year.
The Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble was first meant to begin in November last year but it was put on hold after an uptick of cases in Hong Kong.
This time around, however, there are a bunch of extra caveats and heightened pre-flying requirements.
Travelers from Hong Kong will need to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before their trip. Passengers on both sides will need to take two tests within 72 hours before their departure time, one test on arrival in their destination and another when they return to their home city.
Visitors will also need to download the local contact tracing apps to use during their stay.
For the first two weeks there will be just two designated flights a day between Hong Kong to Singapore, one each way, carrying 200 passengers.
If there are more than a daily average of five untraceable cases of community transmission over a one-week period, the arrangement will be suspended for two weeks.
Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development Edward Yau said the added precautions were necessary because of the risk of new variants.
“Taking into account the latest situation, for example, the emergence of a mutated strain and a longer incubation period, we see the need to build additional safeguards and are taking the opportunity to encourage Hong Kong residents to complete two doses of vaccination before they travel,” said Yau.
The travel bubble is welcome news for Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific, which have both been battered by the pandemic and travel restrictions.
Singapore Airlines called it “an important milestone” in their recovery and pledged to have all the health protocols in place.
Shares in both airlines were given a boost following the announcement.
There’s also hope that if these travel arrangements can prove to be effective, the bubble can grow to include other travel links in the region.
“To get this bubble up successfully, I think we’ll have a significant signaling effect to the rest of the world,” said Singapore’s transport minister Ong Ye Ku.