Hong Kong–Singapore “Travel Bubble” Back on the Table

But the rolling seven-day average of untraceable Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong still remains above the permissible threshold for the bubble to operate.

Hong Kong skyscrapers and the sails of the Aqualuna junk. (Photo: Andres Garcia/Unsplash)

Over the weekend, a source within the Hong Kong government revealed to the South China Morning Post that discussions with Singapore had resumed over the postponed quarantine-free “travel bubble” between the two Asian financial hubs. The much-anticipated arrangement had been set for November 22 last year, but was abruptly suspended less than 24 hours before it was due to take effect as Hong Kong battled a fourth wave of coronavirus infection.

The source with inside knowledge of the high-level discussions said a launch date had not yet been determined, and both sides were considering further safeguards on top of the conditions of the original agreement. The daily count of newly confirmed Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong has dropped to single digits on recent days, although the territory reported 20 cases on Sunday, including six untraceable community infections. This latest statistic means the rolling seven-day average of unlinked cases has crossed the threshold of five infections permitted under the travel bubble. The announcement of further details will likely hinge on infection numbers over the next two weeks, and authorities are concerned that there may be a sharp V-shaped rebound due to gatherings over the festive Lunar New Year period.

Looking further ahead, Singapore and Hong Kong could be among the first Asian jurisdictions to finish inoculating their general population against the virus. While the Lion City started its vaccination drive at the end of last year, Hong Kong’s own program will begin later this week (on February 26), with online bookings for appointments open from tomorrow. One million doses of the Sinovac jab arrived last Friday on a flight from Beijing, a day after local authorities approved the vaccine for emergency use. Another million jabs made by German pharmaceutical firm BioNTech are due to reach the city at the end of this month. In the initial stage of the campaign, the vaccines will be offered for free to 2.4 million people in a handful of priority groups, including healthcare staff, people over the age of 60, those providing essential services, and care home workers and residents.

Travel bubbles have so far proved increasingly difficult to inflate in these ever-changing circumstances. Australia and New Zealand are set to open up a two-way trans-Tasman bubble by April, but Australia suspended quarantine-free arrangements for travelers from New Zealand last week after the emergence of several community infections in Auckland with no known source.

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