The Governments of Singapore and Hong Kong today gave their promised update on plans for the much-anticipated and often-delayed launch of the Air Travel Bubble (ATB) between the two cities, but for those hoping for a quick restart, there is likely to be some disappointment.
Despite Singapore’s COVID-19 case numbers coming under control in recent days and the city moving to Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) measures from 14th June 2021, a new launch date for the ATB has still not been finalised, while both cities continue to monitor the situation.
The ATB’s launch has already been postponed twice, in November 2020 and May 2021, due to COVID-19 outbreaks in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively.
An announcement on “the way forward” will be made in early July, which probably puts a fresh planned start date in the mid to late July window at the earliest.
“Subsequent to the announcement on May 17 about deferral of the inaugural flights under the ATB, the two governments have been closely monitoring the epidemic situation in both places, including the effectiveness of the anti-epidemic measures implemented by the Singapore Government in response to the latest epidemic development.
“The Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, has been in regular dialogue with the Minister for Transport of the Republic of Singapore, Mr S Iswaran. Both consider that it is prudent to keep the developments under review to ensure the epidemic situation is sufficiently stable before deciding in early July on the way forward for the ATB.”Government of Hong Kong SAR spokesperson
In their statement, both governments stressed their strong commitment “to launching the ATB with a view to resuming air travel between the two regional aviation hubs and international cities”.
Here is Singapore’s update on the ATB, which is of course very much ‘in chime’ with Hong Kong’s statement.
“Both sides [will] review the situation in early July, before making a decision on the target launch dates of the ATB flights. An update will be provided at that point.”Singapore Ministry of Transport
About the ATB
The ATB between Singapore and Hong Kong is designed to allow eligible travellers who have spent at least the last 14 days in either city to forgo quarantine on arrival, instead completing a COVID-19 testing regime both prior to and after travel in each direction.
Here are the key features of the proposal.
Singapore – Hong Kong ATB
- Travel on designated ‘bubble flights’
- No restrictions on travel purpose or itineraries
- COVID-19 testing replaces quarantine / Stay-Home Notice
- Adult Hong Kong passport holders need to be vaccinated to fly to Singapore
- ATB can be suspended with 48h notice if unlinked COVID-19 cases spike in either city
For full details about the process, in readiness for its eventual launch, see our full guide here.
Since its initial inception, the ATB between the two cities has been developed with a ‘circuit breaker’ mechanism for temporary suspension, based on the moving average of unlinked COVID-19 cases in either location exceeding a predetermined threshold.
If the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases rises to more than five in either Singapore or Hong Kong, the ATB will then be suspended, after a two-day ‘grace’ period, for 14 days.
It can resume the following day, provided cases have dropped below a similar set of criteria.
Currently the average stands at 0.14 in Hong Kong and 1.00 (provisionally) in Singapore, as of 10th June 2021. Singapore’s provisional unlinked total is often revised downwards at the evening MOH update.
The continued delay in releasing more details about the ATB’s proposed launch date is therefore likely to stem from an abundance of caution from both sides, wishing to ensure that the situation remains under control as Singapore slowly relaxes some COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks.
What if you have a booking?
If you’re already booked on one of SIA or Cathay Pacific’s ATB flights, a full refund with all fees waived is still being offered by both carriers in light of the further delay in a confirmed launch date.
Alternatively, you can also rebook a different date for no fee (fare difference may apply).
Customers 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
SIA adds, “if you booked via a travel agent, please contact them for assistance”.
We will refund or change travel dates without charge for anyone due to travel during the suspension period.Cathay Pacific
If you are still eligible to travel between Singapore and Hong Kong, note that all flights currently operating will be non-ATB services for now, which means regular quarantine or SHN requirements apply on arrival.
Given the lead time required for flight arrangements and for bookings, we would expect an early July announcement potentially including a resumption date for the ATB could mean an earliest start by mid to late July 2021, provided the case numbers in both cities still support a safe resumption.
An important point to consider is that neither side has committed to providing a new launch date in early July (just as they didn’t by 13th June, despite the interpretation of most mainstream media). All that’s been promised is an update.
We could therefore still be in a situation where the can continues to be kicked down the road until they are finally ready to commit to a launch date.
In any event, once we have more details and we can get booking again, we’ll be sure to update you all.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)