The travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore has been popped after Hong Kong announced a sudden spike in coronavirus cases.
“In the light of recent surge of local cases we have decided, together with the Singapore government, to defer the air travel bubble’s launch by two weeks,” commerce secretary Edward Yau told reporters.
After weeks of single-digit infections, Hong Kong health authorities have begun reporting a sudden uptick in cases in recent days.
On Saturday they recorded 36 local coronavirus cases. Crucially, 13 were from unknown transmission sources, prompting fears the city has a new wave of out-of-control infections.
Both Hong Kong and Singapore agreed that seven straight days of five or more unknown transmission cases would be enough to halt the travel bubble.
But Saturday’s double-digit spike was enough for authorities in both cities to postpone the travel bubble.
“This is a sober reminder that the Covid-19 virus is still with us, and even as we fight to regain our normal lives, the journey will be full of ups and downs,” Singapore transport minister Ong Ye Kung wrote on his Facebook page.
Shukor Yusof, an analyst with aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, said that travel bubbles are fraught with challenges.
“Although widely supported by aviation bodies, bilaterally agreed air corridors is not the answer to the crisis,” Shukor told AFP.
“There is no solution until the vaccine is available to all. The more airlines swim against the Covid tide, and try to beat the odds, the worse it will become. Best to endure, stay put, refine the business model and conserve cash,” he added.
The planned travel bubble, which could still go ahead if infections drop, is strict.
A maximum of 200 residents from each city will be able to travel on one daily flight to the other, with only those who have been in Singapore and Hong Kong for two weeks and tested negative allowed to board.
Arriving passengers will have to test negative again, and all the health checks could add substantial extra cost to a trip.
Coronavirus tests in Hong Kong cost around HK$1,500 ($190) at a government-approved laboratory or hospital, and in Singapore the price is around SG$200 ($150).
(Main and featured image: Joshua J Cotten/Unsplash)