Singapore and Hong Kong are set to launch the world's first ‘air travel bubble’ arrangement. The reciprocal agreement will see travellers from one city able to access the other city without the need to quarantine.
Those wishing to take advantage of the new arrangement must fly on special ‘travel bubble flights’ with either Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific. The designated flights are SQ890 and CX734 flying from Singapore to Hong Kong and SQ891 and CX759 for those travelling from Hong Kong to Singapore.
The new arrangement will begin on November 22 with a daily quota of passengers set at 200 each way. From December 7, both airlines will run daily flights and the quota will double to 400 passengers.
To take advantage of the bubble, travellers will need to have been in either Singapore or Hong Kong for 14 days pre-departure. Work permit or S-pass holders in Singapore working in construction, marine shipyard or process sectors are not eligible for travel under the scheme.
Travellers departing from Hong Kong will need to apply for an air travel pass seven to 30 days before entering Singapore; applications will open on November 12. However, this requisite does not apply to Singapore permanent residents and citizens returning to Singapore. Singapore long-term pass holders will need to apply for an approval letter.
All arrivals into Singapore will be expected to download the city’s contact tracing app, TraceTogether. All Singapore-bound travellers must take a PCR test no more than 72 hours before travel at a government-recognised clinic or testing centre in Hong Kong. Children under 12 years are exempt and there is no need for a further test on arrival in Singapore. Before leaving Singapore to travel home, travellers will have to take a second PCR test within 72 hours of departure at a registered clinic or testing centre. However, if the trip to Singapore is less than 72 hours, this second test does not need to be carried out. On arriving back in Hong Kong, travellers will have to take a third test at the airport and wait for a negative result to be returned.
For those travelling from Singapore to Hong Kong, a health declaration form will need to be submitted in advance and a PCR test taken no more than 72 before travel. A second test must be booked in advance and carried out on arrival at Hong Kong Airport. Travellers must remain at the airport until a negative result is returned. A third test must be taken no more than 72 hours before travellers return to Singapore at a recognised clinic or health centre in Hong Kong. Children aged 12 years and younger are exempt. Travellers will not have to take a further test on arrival in Singapore.
“The Air Travel Bubble is a significant milestone that demonstrates the deep connections and close friendship between Singapore and Hong Kong,” said Singapore Tourism Board chief executive officer Keith Tan. “Singapore is well-equipped to handle the Covid-19 crisis, and with our strong track record, we are confident that Hong Kong travellers can explore Singapore with peace of mind.”
According to Dane Cheng, Hong Kong Tourism Board executive director, the air travel bubble “is a hugely important moment that shows the world that safe international travel is possible, and paves the way for us to bring tourist flights to and from other markets.”
Travellers on the first Air Travel Bubble flights will be treated to a special inflight menu highlighting local favourites from both cities. Both tourism boards will also be welcoming travellers with commemorative, limited-edition reusable face masks showcasing aspects of both cities.
However, if the seven-day average of the daily number of cases is more than five in either city, the scheme will be suspended.
Another sticking point for potential travellers is the current lengthy wait time for test results at Hong Kong Airport. Waiting times can run from anywhere between five and 12 hours, with some travellers reporting a 19 hour wait during a recent typhoon, which forced the closure of the test laboratory. Recently, the city has been trialling rapid LAMP tests that return results in under an hour, although it was reported in Hong Kong media today that these tests “need adjustments” and the trial will be extended by another week.
The trial was initially launched on October 28 on rapid tests that have been developed by Oxford University and bio-tech company Prenetics. Testing relies on gargle specimens rather than deep throat saliva and because results can be turned around at the airport, the wait time is much shorter than the lab-based PCR test.