With rising COVID-19 case numbers in Hong Kong, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has imposed an additional restriction on those using the new Air Travel Bubble (ATB), which launches between Singapore and Hong Kong tomorrow with the first flights set to depart each city in the morning.
The additional test will apply to all those arriving in Singapore, whether visiting from Hong Kong or returning home from their trip, but the ATB will still go ahead as planned.
The Singapore – Hong Kong ATB arrangement will be launched as scheduled on 22 November 2020. Hong Kong has a comprehensive public health surveillance system and the overall incidence rate is still low.CAAS, 21st November 2020
Update: SIA is now offering all passengers with flight bookings on the ATB a full refund with all fees waived, if they no longer wish to travel on the ATB.
Additional COVID-19 test
The extra PCR test over and above the tests originally required for those travelling on the ATB will be conducted on arrival at Changi Airport, whether visiting from Hong Kong or returning from your trip.
Since the result is not immediate, those taking the test are then required to travel by private transport to their specified home address (or hotel for visitors from Hong Kong), where they must self-isolate until the results are available.
The test results will take six to eight hours.
ATB Testing schedule
The new testing schedule for Singapore residents visiting Hong Kong on the ATB is now as follows, with the new test highlighted.
- Singapore pre-departure: ~S$200
- Hong Kong arrival: S$87
- Hong Kong pre-departure: S$122-325 (depending on clinic)
- Singapore arrival: S$196
Overall, this increases the testing cost to at least S$600 per person when using the ATB.
The exception is for those spending less than 72 hours in Hong Kong (from the arrival test time to scheduled flight departure time), who will not be required to take a pre-departure test in the city, since the arrival test remains valid.
Children under the age of 12 are exempt from the pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test in Hong Kong, but must take all other tests.
Test fee waiver
Given the late-notice nature of this additional requirement, CAAS has advised that the S$196 arrival COVID-19 test at Changi Airport will be free of charge for those arriving during the first few days of the ATB, from 22nd November to 28th November inclusive.
The charge for this test will therefore only apply those landing into Changi from 29th November onwards.
Why the change?
This additional step has come about due to rising COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong in recent days, with 26 new cases confirmed yesterday in what many are predicting is the start of a ‘fourth wave’ of cases in the city.
The ATB itself is not yet at risk however, with a ‘circuit breaker’ in place based on unlinked case numbers in either city determining it’s survival.
Essentially, the ATB will be suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked COVID-19 cases is more than five in either Singapore or Hong Kong.
The ATB will then resume if the seven-day moving average on the last day of the suspension period is five or fewer.
Over the last seven days, the 7-day average in Singapore remains zero but the average in Hong Kong has crept up to 2.14, based on 15 unlinked cases, 9 of which were recorded yesterday.
Hong Kong unlinked COVID-19 cases
If 9 unlinked cases were to continue each day from 21st November, the ATB would be suspended on 23rd November. If there are more than 22 unlinked cases over the next two days (21st and 22nd November), the ATB would be suspended on 22nd November.
A 48-hour notice period applies if the threshold of 5 unlinked cases over the last 7 days is exceeded, potentially allowing those already in Hong Kong (or Hong Kong visitors in Singapore) time to rebook flights and return within the ATB window.
Given the evolving COVID-19 situation, passengers travelling to Hong Kong are advised to stay vigilant, exercise precaution by avoiding crowded places and to adhere to Hong Kong’s prevailing public health measures at all times. They are advised to make contingency plans, because should the ATB be suspended, they may have to change their flights, and will have to undergo 7-day SHN upon return.CAAS, 21st November 2020
The first flights on the ATB are scheduled to depart tomorrow morning, with CX759 departing Hong Kong for Singapore at 09:10 and SQ890 going wheels-up from Changi at 10:00 in the opposite direction.
The full ATB flight schedule for both carriers is available here. Note that Scoot services between Singapore and Hong Kong are not part of the ATB.
What if the ATB is suspended while you’re in Hong Kong?
The biggest concern for most of our readers will be a suspension of the ATB without sufficient time (or flight availability) to return to Singapore within the 48-hour notice period.
In this case, you can continue with your trip as planned.
All flights will operate as scheduled, but will become non-ATB flights (in common with the daily Scoot services). On return to Singapore, citizens, residents and pass holders will then be subject to the prevailing arrival SHN requirement, which is currently a 7-day Stay Home Notice (SHN) period.
This can be served at your place of residence, provided:
- You are occupying your place of residence (i.e. residential address) alone, or only with household members with the same travel history, who are also serving their SHN of the same duration and period; and
- There is no one ordinarily residing at your place of residence (e.g. domestic helper) who does not share the same travel history, and you have already made all necessary arrangements to ensure that any such person will not reside at the place of residence until the conclusion of the SHN period.
If you do not meet the criteria, you will have to serve your SHN in a dedicated facility.
If you remain in Hong Kong for long enough, the ATB may resume again before you return to Singapore, in which case no SHN would apply on your return, though you would have to stay there at least two weeks for this to be possible, and it is far from guaranteed as it will depend on future case numbers.
Singapore Airlines offers refunds
As a result of this change, Singapore Airlines is now offering all passengers with bookings on any ATB flights a full refund with no fees applied. Alternatively, you can also rebook a different date for no fee (fare difference may apply).
Customers who no longer wish to travel on the ATB flights, will be able to rebook or request a full refund of their tickets, with cancellation fees waived via our Assistance Request form. The refund will be accorded to the passengers’ original mode of payment for unutilised portion(s) of their tickets (including non-refundable tickets).Singapore Airlines, 21st November 2020
Previously, this refund was only possible if the ATB was suspended. If you have now changed your mind about travelling on the ATB, it means you will at least not be out of pocket for the flight expenses.
Cathay Pacific meanwhile maintains the following stance at the time of writing:
If the Air Travel Bubble is suspended, we’ll ensure everyone mid-trip gets home by re-assigning them onto normal, non-Air Travel Bubble flights. Please note that normal quarantine procedures would apply.
We’ll also refund or change travel dates without charge for anyone due to travel during the suspension period.Cathay Pacific (ATB FAQs)
Without a formal suspension of the ATB, it therefore looks as though you’ll still pay the usual change or cancellation fees for a Cathay Pacific booking, though we’ll update this section if we hear any different.
Increasing COVID-19 case numbers in Hong Kong, which may even develop into a ‘fourth wave’ in the city, have caused the authorities in Singapore to require this additional test, adding to the complexity and cost of an already relatively complex process for what used to be a simple overseas trip.
S$600+ in testing for each passenger using the new Singapore – Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble is starting to look like a lot of money for an overseas holiday, in addition to the usual flight and hotel expenses.
A family if four is potentially looking at S$2,400 in testing costs alone, a significant sum that could easily buy a very luxurious staycation here in Singapore!
Luckily for those travelling in the first seven days of the ATB, the new additional test fee on arrival in Singapore will be waived, preventing the shock of a sudden unexpected cost for those unlikely to be able to easily change their plans at this late stage.
Those who have booked or redeemed their flights on Singapore Airlines who have now changed their minds about travelling on the ATB are now entitled to a full refund, regardless of ticket type, with all fees waived.
Further information is available at the CAAS website.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)