With Hong Kong almost inevitably entering a ‘fourth wave’ of COVID-19 infections, seeing rising case numbers day by day, the inevitable has happened. It has now been confirmed that the Singapore – Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble will be postponed for at least two weeks, the day before it was due to begin.
A ‘circuit-breaker’ was designed when the ATB was agreed, such that if the seven-day average of unlinked COVID-19 cases in either city exceeded 5, a fixed two-week stop was placed on the agreement.
Though that threshold hasn’t been breached, with a reported 13 unlinked cases today bringing the seven-day average only to 3.86, the authorities in Hong Kong have clearly decided the situation is only heading in one direction and that launching the bubble tomorrow is unwise.
“The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) announced today (November 21) that in view of the recent epidemic situation in Hong Kong, the Governments of HKSAR and Singapore have decided to defer the inaugural flights under the Hong Kong-Singapore Air Travel Bubble (ATB) for two weeks.”Government of Hong Kong SAR
Flights on the ATB were due to commence at 09:10 tomorrow, with a Cathay Pacific departure from Hong Kong to Singapore, followed 50 minutes later with Singapore Airlines in the opposite direction.
We were flying Business Class to Hong Kong tomorrow on SQ890 and were still intending to travel despite the increasingly uncertain outlook for the ATB, so this is certainly disappointing news, though it does now seem a sensible step.
For now, those with a booking on Singapore Airlines are already permitted to refund or change their booking on an ATB flight with no penalties, regardless of fare type booked, following additional testing measures announced earlier today.
The new measure meant those arriving at Changi, either after their ATB trip or on a visit from Hong Kong, would be subjected to an additional S$196 COVID-19 PCR test, followed by a six to eight hour wait self-isolating at home or in a hotel for the result.
This pushed the cost of testing alone for those using the ATB to around S$600+ per person making a round-trip.
Cathay Pacific is now offering free rebooking and refunds for those booked on the ATB during the two-week suspension period.
Update 22 Nov: If you already paid Prenetics for your arrival COVID test at Hong Kong Airport, it’s fully refundable. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
If you’re hoping to rebook your trip to coincide with the ‘new launch’, it does seem at this stage that the carrier has wiped all availability on the route in December for the time being, so sit tight until we have more details.
The news is clearly disappointing, with both countries lauding the arrangement as the first of its kind in the region when it was first announced.
It was to act as a ‘testbed’ for future leisure travel lanes between Singapore and other countries around the world with low COVID-19 case numbers, with potential for Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia to form similar arrangements, or even ‘trilateralise’ or ‘quadlateralise’ the existing ATB.
A further announcement on the ATB’s potential resumption is now due to be made in ‘early December’, according to Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau.
“The new date of inaugural flights will be announced in early December.”Government of Hong Kong SAR
A disappointing ‘false start’ for the much-anticipated Singapore – Hong Kong Air Travel bubble, set to the be first of its kind in the region and a potential model for future such leisure ‘green lanes’ with other countries.
It seems like we won’t now find out exactly when the ATB will recommence until early December 2020, though a two-week pause takes us to at least 6th December 2020.
The postponement does make sense given the rapidly rising COVID-19 case numbers in Hong Kong, which looked set to ‘burst the bubble’ anyway within the first few days.
Let’s hope for better luck next time round.
(Cover Photo: Robert Bye)