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Hong Kong-Singapore Travel Bubble Won’t Happen This Year

A plan to allow quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and Singapore, delayed last month as Covid-19 cases began surging in Hong Kong, has now been pushed back beyond the end of the year.

The travel bubble, announced on Nov. 11, was set to begin on Nov. 22, but authorities delayed it by two weeks after Hong Kong was hit by dozens of new cases.

On Tuesday, after Hong Kong announced a host of stringent new measures to curb the growing outbreak, Singapore’s civil aviation authority said the two governments had agreed to delay the start of the travel bubble again, until after the end of 2020. It said they would review an exact start date in late December.

Hong Kong has seen a surge in infections in the past two weeks, after keeping daily new cases largely to the single digits and teens since late August. The city reported a recent high of 115 new cases on Sunday.

City officials said Monday that bars and many other indoor services would close, students would move to online instruction and civil servants would begin working from home.

The city has kept its caseload relatively low throughout the pandemic, requiring people to wear masks in public and quarantine on entry from abroad. It also pursues aggressive testing and contact tracing.

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Hong Kong-Singapore Travel Bubble Isn’t Happening in 2020

(Bloomberg) — A resurgence of the virus is scuppering hopes of a return to normalcy in Hong Kong.



a group of people sitting at a train station: Changi International Airport in Singapore.


© Photographer: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP
Changi International Airport in Singapore.

A key travel bubble with Singapore was delayed for a second time on Tuesday, some international banks ordered their staff to resume working from home and Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said even parties at sea are off limits.

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It’s a sobering reminder of how quickly circumstances can change. After a long lull with just a handful of cases a day, the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong prompted the government to impose tighter social-distancing rules and to close schools again. The city reported 82 new infections on Tuesday.

While Hong Kong’s resurgent outbreak is far less intense than in the U.S. and Europe, where cases in some places are still hitting daily records, it’s been enough to usher in a raft of new restrictions. With nightclubs and karaoke parlors closed, a hotline for residents to report parties aboard yachts and rented party boats has been set up, Lam told a weekly news briefing Tuesday.

“The reporting hotline newly set up is there because we see that, after party rooms and karaoke parlors have been made to close, there are a number of people who organize events at sea,” Lam said. “We want to target such a breach.”

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While Hong Kong is poised to limit public gatherings to two people, the government hasn’t capped the number of people who can meet in private. A police representative declined to elaborate on the rules on whether the measure would have any effect on private parties hosted by yacht owners, referring only to the earlier Facebook post.

Meanwhile, global banks in the financial hub from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to Standard Chartered Plc are urging more staff to work from home again.

Goldman Sachs will go back to a full work-from-home approach in Hong Kong starting Wednesday except for staff that have to be in the office to perform their roles, according to a staff memo that was confirmed by a bank spokesman.

Standard Chartered has applied a hard split-team arrangement for functions that require work in the office, and shortened branch hours last Friday, according to a spokeswoman. “In view of Covid wave 4, we strongly encourage our staff to work from home where possible,” she said.

But perhaps Tuesday’s biggest setback was the delay until 2021 of the keenly anticipated travel corridor between Hong Kong and Singapore. That’s a blow for the region’s airlines and tourism businesses seeking to start a recovery from the almost year-long pandemic.

The travel bubble that would have involved rigorous Covid testing will be delayed beyond 2020, and the cities said Tuesday they will review the arrangement for 2021 toward late December. The pact, which would have allowed passengers to travel between the centers without a quarantine, was already postponed by two weeks on Nov. 21, a day before flights were due to start.

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Singapore and Hong Kong push back their travel bubble again, this time beyond 2020

  • Singapore and Hong Kong have delayed the start of their bilateral “travel bubble” beyond 2020, authorities from both cities said on Tuesday.



A closed departure hall at Hong Kong International Airport terminal.


© Provided by CNBC
A closed departure hall at Hong Kong International Airport terminal.

SINGAPORE — Singapore and Hong Kong have delayed the start of their bilateral “travel bubble” again — deferring the plan beyond 2020, authorities from both cities said on Tuesday.

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The latest postponement followed an earlier decision to push back the launch of the air travel bubble by two weeks after Hong Kong reported a resurgence in new Covid-19 cases. Inaugural flights under the arrangement — which initially allowed travelers to skip quarantine — was supposed to start on Nov. 22.

“Singapore and Hong Kong have further reviewed the COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong, and given that local unlinked cases are still high, both parties have decided to defer the commencement of the Singapore – Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (ATB) to beyond December 2020,” the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said in a statement.

Both the Singapore aviation authority and the Hong Kong government said they will review the arrangement again in late December to decide on an exact start date.

— This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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Hong Kong, Singapore bubble delay highlights hurdles to travel recovery

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A delay to Asia’s first travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore has hit the shares of their flag carriers and highlighted the challenges facing the global travel industry as it tries to rebound from the pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Cathay Pacific employees, wearing masks against COVID-19, are seen behind counters with glass dividers at Hong Kong International Airport, China October 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik

The arrangement was postponed on Saturday, one day before it was due to launch, after Hong Kong reported a jump in coronavirus cases. Authorities and aviation experts have said the bubble would provide a blueprint for quarantine-free travel before a vaccine is widely available.

“There is no doubt that there are many challenges around it,” said Singapore hotelier Marcus Hanna, who had taken bookings from Hong Kong tourists and hopes for similar arrangements with major markets like mainland China and Australia early next year.

“Let’s hope that things improve in Hong Kong … many countries would have been looking to see how it goes,” said Hanna, general manager of Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford.

Shares of Cathay Pacific fell as much as 6.6% in early Asian trade on Monday, their biggest intraday fall since Aug. 10, before paring some losses to trade 5% lower. Singapore Airlines shares traded 1% lower in a positive local market.

The two airlines have been harder hit by the pandemic than their global peers as they do not have domestic routes to fall back on.

The bubble would have only brought incremental traffic into both cities. But Jefferies analyst Andrew Lee, who covers Cathay Pacific, said for Hong Kong it could serve as a template that could be extended to 10 other countries next year.

Singapore and Hong Kong also set cautious conditions for the bubble, including a suspension if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked COVID-19 cases exceeded five in either place.

A mooted travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia has also failed to take off, while Europe’s Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia created a short-lived travel bubble in May that burst in September.

“It is important to not let this kill any momentum to open up safely in Asia,” Brendan Sobie, an independent aviation analyst, said of the Singapore-Hong Kong setback. “It is hard to get things aligned given the various spikes.”

Reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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Hong Kong-Singapore Bubble Delay Hits Travel Rebound Hopes

(Bloomberg) — The shelving of the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble shows just how delicate the process of reopening borders is — even for places that have largely contained the coronavirus.

The cities’ virus outbreaks are far less intense than in places such as the U.S. and Europe, but a recent uptick in cases in Hong Kong proved enough to delay the start of the air corridor between the two financial hubs by two weeks, dashing the plans of those who booked flights that were due to begin Sunday.

The bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore was heralded as a pandemic world-first, allowing people to travel to and from the two places without the need for quarantine. Authorities are reviewing a new launch date.



Ong Ye Kung standing in front of a crowd: Key Speakers at The Singapore FinTech Festival


© Bloomberg
Key Speakers at The Singapore FinTech Festival

Ong Ye Kung

Photographer: Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg

“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 said Saturday.

The two sides agreed that the bubble would be suspended if local infections exceeded five on a rolling seven-day average. That wasn’t even met in Hong Kong before the decision, but the recent jump in infections there was enough for authorities to apply the brakes, handing another setback to the aviation and travel industries of the two cities, which had some of the region’s busiest airports before the pandemic.



chart: Shares of Cathay and Singapore Air staged a recovery in November with bubble plan


© Bloomberg
Shares of Cathay and Singapore Air staged a recovery in November with bubble plan

Strict border curbs have helped Asia contain the coronavirus better than other parts of the world, with countries from China to New Zealand limiting the entry of travelers and imposing mandatory quarantines as a way of stopping the virus at their doors. But the approach — which has seen some all but eliminate Covid-19 — has come at a heavy cost, decimating tourism with cross-border travel basically paralyzed.

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While in-country containment of the virus has resulted in the world’s 10 busiest domestic air travel routes now all being in Asia, according to OAG Aviation Worldwide Ltd., Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. continue to struggle as they have no domestic travel market to fall back on. Cathay’s shares slid as much as 6.6% on Monday and Singapore Airlines dropped 1.7%

Even if the Hong Kong-Singapore corridor opens, the boost to the two aviation hubs will be limited, said Rico Merkert, professor of transport at the University of Sydney’s business school. Singapore Airlines and Cathay will continue to struggle because they can’t funnel onto the route those travelers who would normally arrive from Europe and the U.S., he said.

“Without that feeder traffic, those bubbles will at best be limited to the local population,” Merkert said. “International travel is going to remain a tricky affair.”

Cathay had described the bubble as “a hugely encouraging development and an important first step in

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Hong Kong-Singapore Bubble Delay Shows Travel Rebound Uncertain

(Bloomberg) — The shelving of the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble shows just how delicate the process of reopening borders is — even for places that have largely contained the coronavirus.

Asia’s virus outbreak is dwarfed by those in the U.S. and Europe, but a recent uptick in cases in Hong Kong proved enough to delay the start of the air corridor between the two financial hubs by two weeks, dashing the plans of those who booked flights that were due to begin Sunday. The bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore was heralded as a pandemic world-first, allowing people to travel to and from the two places without the need for quarantine.



Ong Ye Kung standing in front of a crowd: Key Speakers at The Singapore FinTech Festival


© Bloomberg
Key Speakers at The Singapore FinTech Festival

Ong Ye Kung

Photographer: Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg

“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 said Saturday.

The two sides agreed that the bubble would be suspended if local infections exceeded five on a rolling seven-day average. That wasn’t even met in Hong Kong before the decision, but the recent jump in infections there was enough for authorities to apply the brakes, handing another setback to the aviation and travel industries of the two cities, which had some of the region’s busiest airports before the pandemic.



chart: Shares of Cathay and Singapore Air staged a recovery in November with bubble plan


© Bloomberg
Shares of Cathay and Singapore Air staged a recovery in November with bubble plan

Strict border curbs have helped Asia contain the coronavirus better than other parts of the world, with countries from China to New Zealand limiting the entry of travelers and imposing mandatory quarantines as a way of stopping the virus at their doors. But the approach — which has seen some all but eliminate Covid-19 — has come at a heavy cost, decimating tourism with cross-border travel basically paralyzed.

A Third of the World’s Air Routes Have Been Lost Due to Covid

While in-country containment of the virus has resulted in the world’s 10 busiest domestic air travel routes now all being in Asia, according to OAG Aviation Worldwide Ltd., Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. continue to struggle as they have no domestic travel market to fall back on.

Even if the Hong Kong-Singapore corridor opens, the boost to the two aviation hubs will be limited, said Rico Merkert, professor of transport at the University of Sydney’s business school. Singapore Air and Cathay will continue to struggle because they still can’t funnel onto the route those travelers who would normally arrive from Europe and the U.S., he said.

“Without that feeder traffic, those bubbles will at best be limited to the local population,” Merkert said. “International travel is going to remain a tricky affair.”

Video: Klook: ‘Really excited’ about Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble (CNBC)

Klook: ‘Really excited’ about Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble

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Cathay had described the

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empty hotel rooms all over Hong Kong, but two new properties prepare to open amid Covid-19 gloom



a man sitting on a chair in a room: Aron Harilela is confident Hong Kong will bounce back. Photo: Xiaomei Chen


© SCMP
Aron Harilela is confident Hong Kong will bounce back. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Two hotels are going ahead with plans to open next month despite the damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic to Hong Kong’s tourism and hospitality sectors.

The Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel, near the city’s airport, will have its official opening on December 1, after a year’s delay, while The Hari Hotel in Wan Chai opens on December 12, on schedule.

They are opening at a time when the number of visitors has plunged 93 per cent to just 3.56 million in the first 10 months of the year, according to provisional figures from the city’s tourism board.

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Hotel rooms across the city have been left empty for much of this year, too, with occupancy rates falling to 43 per cent between January and September, compared with 84 per cent last year.

For a start, both new hotels are counting on Hong Kong residents to take up their staycation offers, especially over the Christmas season.



a bedroom with a bed and desk in a hotel room: Executive Ocean View Suite of Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Hotel. Photo: Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel


© Provided by South China Morning Post
Executive Ocean View Suite of Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Hotel. Photo: Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel

“It’s not the easiest of times for them to open, the situation will have an impact on their profitability in the short term,” said Brian King, associate dean at the school of hospitality and tourism management at Polytechnic University.

A recent Covid-19 cluster linked to staycations in Mui Wo has raised concern, with the government planning to limit the number of people allowed in a hotel room to four.

Deliveries a lifeline for Hong Kong restaurants as Covid-19 keeps patrons away

A new rule that took effect on Wednesday bans visits to those under quarantine in hotels. Couriers delivering food and other items are not allowed face-to-face contact with guests during their quarantine period.

Despite all that, the new hotels are putting up a brave front as they prepare to welcome guests.

“We open hotels for the long term, so we’re still very positive about that,” said veteran Dutch hotelier Sander Looijen, who has spent the past year getting the five-star Sheraton Tung Chung ready to open.

Located just 10 minutes from the airport and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the 218-room hotel was planned to cater to business travellers and aircrew.



a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a building: Sander Looijen has spent the past year getting the Sheraton Tung Chung ready to open. Photo: Xiaomei Chen


© Provided by South China Morning Post
Sander Looijen has spent the past year getting the Sheraton Tung Chung ready to open. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

With air travel at a standstill because of the pandemic, Looijen said it was now positioning itself as part of the Tung Chung community, offering staycation packages for families and nature-lovers over the Christmas season.

Five years in the making, the hotel will have four restaurants and is close to Lantau Island’s hiking trails. Most of its guest rooms have sea views.

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Hong Kong and Singapore put their planned travel bubble on hold.

The governments of Hong Kong and Singapore have temporarily scrapped a plan for a travel bubble, as Hong Kong grapples with a spike in coronavirus infections. The delay underscores the challenges of reopening international travel routes as efforts to control the virus remain unstable across the world.

The arrangement between the two Asian financial centers, which would allow travelers to bypass quarantine, was set to begin on Sunday. But Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary of commerce, said on Saturday that the two cities were pushing back the plan for two weeks because of a “recent upsurge in local cases” in Hong Kong.

“For any scheme to be successful, it must fulfill the condition of securing public health and also making sure that both sides would be comfortable and feel safe about the scheme,” Mr. Yau said, describing the delay as a “responsible” decision. Further announcements about the plan will be made by early December, he added.

The travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore would have allowed one designated daily flight into each city, carrying up to 200 passengers who tested negative for the virus.

After a period of relatively few infections, Hong Kong recorded 43 new cases and was verifying more possible ones on Saturday, the city’s health authorities said, up from 26 new cases on Friday. Singapore on Saturday recorded five infections, and said that all of them had been brought in from abroad.

Hong Kong has also further tightened its social distancing rules, banning live performances and dancing at bars and nightclubs, and banning room rentals for private parties.

In other news from around the world:

  • A day after Japan reported a record 2,427 new cases, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Saturday that the country would scale back a subsidy program for domestic tourism in places where infection rates are high. The roughly $16 billion “Go to Travel” program was meant to stimulate the economy, but many questioned its wisdom. Mr. Suga told the Japanese parliament on Friday that about 40 million trips had been taken through the program so far, and that 176 of the tourists had contracted the virus. Toshio Nakagawa, the head of the Japan Medical Association, has said that while there is no concrete evidence linking the program to the country’s recent surge in infections, “there is no mistaking that it acted as a catalyst.”

  • Portugal’s prime minister, Antonio Costa, said on Saturday that domestic travel would be banned and schools closed around

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Hong Kong-Singapore ‘travel bubble’ postponed

The highly-anticipated Hong Kong and Singapore “air travel bubble” was postponed Saturday — less than 24 hours before it was due to launch.



a large passenger jet flying over a body of water: A Cathay Pacific passenger airplane takes off from Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok International Airport on March 10, 2020.


© Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images
A Cathay Pacific passenger airplane takes off from Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok International Airport on March 10, 2020.

The bubble would have allowed quarantine-free, air travel between the two Asian hubs. But a spike in coronavirus infections in Hong Kong means the arrangement will be postponed for two weeks, said Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, at a press conference Saturday.

Hong Kong reported 43 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, the highest daily spike in over three months. Among them, 36 were locally transmitted — including 13 that are untraceable.

The quarantine-free corridor was meant to boost tourism and business travel between the two Asian hubs, which have largely contained their coronavirus outbreak. Hong Kong has recorded 5,561 Covid-19 cases, including 108 deaths, since the outbreak began, while Singapore has reported 58,000 infections and 28 deaths.

Quarantine-free travel would have been a big deal for both destinations, where strict arrival regulations have been in place for months. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, both governments shut borders and denied entry to most non-residents and short-term visitors. In Hong Kong, returning residents are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine and wear an electronic bracelet to track their location.

How the bubble was meant to work

The bubble was set to begin Sunday with one flight a day into each city, with a quota of 200 travelers per flight — and later set increased to two flights a day.

Travelers would have to meet certain parameters before embarking, such as having made no trips in the previous 14 days, and undergo compulsory Covid-19 testing. But they wouldn’t be subject to any quarantine or stay-home notice requirements, or a controlled itinerary, upon arrival.

However, the arrangement always included the caveat that should the Covid-19 situation deteriorate in either city, the plan would be suspended.

Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority initially announced on Saturday morning that the travel bubble with Hong Kong would be launched as scheduled. But later that day, the city-state’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung announced there had been a change of plan.

“Given the evolving situation in Hong Kong, Secretary Edward Yau and I discussed further this afternoon, and decided that it would be better to defer the launch of the ATB, by two weeks. We will review within two weeks on the new launch date and update again,” Ong said.

Hong Kong has seen a sharp rise in coronavirus infections in the past few days, after weeks of steadily low number of cases.

The city’s Centre for Health Protection “strongly urged” the public to avoid all non-essential travel outside Hong Kong, and called on residents to avoid going out, dining out and having social contact.

“The scale of the increase is very alarming,” Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch at Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection

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‘Travel Bubble’ Between Hong Kong And Singapore Is Delayed Amid COVID-19 Spike : Coronavirus Updates : NPR

In this Oct. 9, 2020, photo, people walk down a street in Hong Kong. Singapore and Hong Kong have postponed a planned air travel bubble meant to boost tourism amid a spike in coronavirus infections in Hong Kong.

Kin Cheung/AP


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In this Oct. 9, 2020, photo, people walk down a street in Hong Kong. Singapore and Hong Kong have postponed a planned air travel bubble meant to boost tourism amid a spike in coronavirus infections in Hong Kong.

Kin Cheung/AP

An arrangement to allow air travelers between Hong Kong and Singapore to forgo quarantine has been delayed after Hong Kong reported a spike in coronavirus cases.

Hong Kong announced Saturday a delay of at least two weeks to the air travel bubble as the city confirmed 43 new cases — including 13 cases that officials have not been able to trace.

The bubble, which was originally slated to start Sunday, would allow a limited number of air travelers to avoid quarantine. To qualify, passengers would have to pass two coronavirus tests — both before departure and upon arrival — and fly on one of a select number of flights.

Both cities currently require most travelers to undergo a 14-day quarantine period.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau, said the postponement was the “responsible way” forward, the Associated Press reported.

“For any scheme to be successful, they must fulfill the condition of securing public health, and also make sure that both sides would be comfortable and feel safe about the scheme,” Yau said.

Yau said enacting the air travel bubble would be revisited early next month, Reuters reported.

Singapore ‘s transport minister, Ong Ye Kung, said in a Facebook post that the postponement is a “sober reminder that the COVID-19 virus is still with us.”

“I can fully understand the disappointment and frustration of travellers who have planned their trips. But we think it is better to defer from a public health standpoint,” he wrote.

The South China Morning Post reported that the plan would have allowed up to 200 people to fly each day without a quarantine period.

As part of the arrangement, both Hong Kong and Singapore had agreed to suspend the program for two weeks if the number of local untraceable cases exceeded five on a rolling seven-day average. As of Saturday, Hong Kong was at nearly four, according to the AP.

Hong Kong, alongside Singapore, was lauded by public health officials for its response early into the pandemic. In recent days, however, the city has seen a spike in new infections.

At least one health official has warned of an upcoming “fourth wave” of coronavirus cases, Bloomberg News reports, adding that more social restrictions were planned to help contain outbreaks.

In total, Hong Kong has confirmed more than 5,500 cases of the coronavirus according to Johns Hopkins University. Singapore has confirmed more than 58,100 cases.

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