Hong Kong Eyes “Travel Bubbles” with Japan and Thailand

The territory’s commerce chief says in-depth talks have resumed after they were put on hold last month.

Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong Island skyline at dusk. (Photo: Nikada/iStock)

Hong Kong–based readers, look here—quarantine-free travel to two of your favorite destination countries could happen sooner than you think. At a webinar yesterday, Edward Yau, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development said discussions to create “travel bubbles” with eight to 10 countries and regions had restarted. Yau added that talks with Japan and Thailand were in a more advanced stage, though he did not give an estimated timeframe for when the new arrangements might be rolled out.

“I have to emphasize that implementing travel bubbles is not a task that can be done in a short period of time as a set of mutually recognized virus test standards has to be in place beforehand,” he said. Yau explained that one option now on the table was to have test results sent to the destination country ahead of time, as a prerequisite for allowing passengers to board their flights. Then it would be up to local health authorities to determine whether further tests were needed on arrival.

Discussions were halted in July, as a third wave of coronavirus infections swept Hong Kong and 12 consecutive days of more than 100 newly confirmed cases signaled the territory’s first major community outbreak during the pandemic. But there have been encouraging signs that the latest outbreak is being brought under control. The daily count of new infections has consistently fallen below 50 since August 16, and just nine cases were announced yesterday, marking the first time the number had fallen to single digits in almost two months.

Travel bubbles are being touted as a way to revive Asia’s battered tourism sector while Covid-19 vaccines remain in development. According to Kyodo News, statistics compiled by the Japan National Tourism Organization showed that only 20 visitors from Hong Kong entered the country in July, compared with nearly 2.3 million in all of 2019 (evenly divided by 12, that comes to 190,000 per month). Japan’s sweeping entry ban on foreign nationals without residency status are echoed by similar restrictions in Hong Kong, where visitor arrivals fell 99.7 percent in June to just over 14,600.

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