While we are still waiting for the promised early July formal announcement regarding the way forward for the proposed Singapore – Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (or is it an Air Travel Corridor now?), Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has hinted at the latest requirement for the long-awaited and much-delayed arrangement.
The quarantine-free all-purpose travel approval between the two cities has already had two false starts, in November 2020 due to rising case numbers in Hong Kong and again in May 2021 due to the same issue rearing its head in Singapore.
Vaccination is back on the agenda
When the ATB had its second launch plan a couple of months ago, Hong Kong imposed a new requirement for its own resident adult citizens to be fully vaccinated for at least two weeks before using the travel bubble.
It left only around 500,000 Hong Kong residents eligible to travel to Singapore at the proposed kick off date on 26th May 2021.
Singapore, on the other hand, did not apply the same requirement for its own residents, and Hong Kong citizens living in Singapore would also not need to be vaccinated to visit their home country and return again, provided they stayed for less than 90 days.
In a media briefing on Tuesday 6th July 2021, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam suggested that with the high vaccination rate in Singapore, adding the requirement on both sides might now be a logical step for the ATB.
“Both Singapore and Hong Kong are now pressing ahead with vaccination…
“Now that Singapore has a very high vaccination rate, another factor that we need to consider on top of what we have agreed previously is whether both sides should require vaccination as a condition for participating in the Air Travel Bubble.”Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong
As of 5th July 2021 around 2.2 million Singapore residents had received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, equivalent to around 38% of the population, though this figure is rising quickly and the government plans to reach 67% fully vaccinated (3.8 million people) by 9th August 2021, around a month from now.
Singapore ideally wants to reach an 80%+ coverage for herd immunity.
Only Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are included in Singapore’s vaccination count. The Sinovac vaccine, which is available through selected private clinics, has been administered to around 17,000 additional residents at the time of writing.
For travel purposes, fully vaccinated status is considered to be 14 days after receiving the second vaccine dose. Singapore is currently administering its doses approximately 4 weeks apart, meaning it’s a six-week wait from the first dose to fully vaccinated status.
Example dosage to full vaccination timeline
|1st dose||1st August 2021|
|+ 28 days|
|2nd dose||29th August 2021|
|+ 14 days|
|Fully vaccinated||12th September 2021|
Hong Kong is further behind in its vaccination campaign, with around 1.6 million residents having received their second dose.
The city is aiming for a 70% herd immunity level.
Aside from vaccination, travel on the ATB/ATC requires a total of four COVID-19 tests (for most travellers) based on its most recent launch plan, with a total cost of around S$420 to S$690 per person, assuming a return trip, as outlined below.
Singapore – Hong Kong ATB/ATC
|Singapore pre-departure||S$135 – S$200|
|Hong Kong arrival||S$86|
|Hong Kong pre-departure*||S$41 – S$239|
|Total||S$422 – S$685|
* Prices range from a community testing centre through to a private clinic, with other options in between at around the S$100 mark. Test not required if returning within 72 hours of arrival test, or for children 6 years or under in that calendar year.
This means it will remain an expensive process, especially for families, and it’s unfortunate to see no concessions made for fully vaccinated individuals, assuming there are still no changes here.
Singapore’s reopening strategy examined
The Singapore government recently announced its gradual move from a pandemic to endemic COVID-19 strategy, gradually lifting restrictions as more of the population becomes fully vaccinated, including potential border relaxations with safe countries later in the year.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung recently spoke of opening to places with new daily case rates of 3 per 100,000 population or less, where vaccination is also high and the virus is being effectively controlled in a similar endemic fashion, with adequate healthcare capacity.
Examples included countries in Europe and the USA, which could see vaccinated travellers moving quarantine-free to and from those places by the end of 2021.
However this may be a cause of some concern for Hong Kong, assuming the travel bubble between the two cities is in operation.
“We heard that Singapore is moving into a new strategy and so we need to understand more about that new strategy and whether it will have any impact on the arrangements that we have devised.”Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong
On Monday a Hong Kong Microbiologist expressed concern that the new strategy, which is predicated on Singapore’s high and increasing level of immunisation, could pose a risk to Hong Kong if a travel bubble was in operation, due to city’s lower vaccination rate.
The ATB (or ATC) is still in sight
Despite the potential new challenges, Carrie Lam remained confident that the quarantine-free travel arrangement between Singapore and Hong Kong (which she referred to as the Air Travel Bubble, though it looks set to be renamed) will still get a new launch date.
“On facilitating travel on a bilateral basis between Hong Kong and other places I would say that Singapore is still our priority candidate for consideration.
“Now that [the] Singapore situation has stabilised we certainly will revive the earlier scheme that we have devised.
“I understand that Edward Yau has been discussing with his Singaporean counterpart recently on when and how we could commence the Air Travel Bubble arrangement with Singapore.”Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong
Singapore’s rolling 7-day average of unlinked community cases as of 6th July 2021 stands at 0.7, well below the agreed ATB operating threshold of 5.0, having fallen below the limit over six weeks ago. Indeed the threshold was only breached for seven days in May, despite relatively high community case totals lasting longer.
Hong Kong has not recorded a single unlinked COVID-19 case in the city for 31 consecutive days, and therefore has a 7-day rolling average of 0.0.
The requirement to be fully vaccinated to use the ATB/ATC between Singapore and Hong Kong is a logical one in our opinion, and it was strange to see that only Hong Kong imposed it during the latest revival plan for the arrangement in May.
Carrie Lam’s latest statement makes it look far more likely that when the scheme gets its ‘third time lucky’ launch date, the fully vaccinated requirement will be imposed for eligible travellers in both cities, though this probably won’t provide any concession on the intensive (and expensive) testing regime.
Luckily with vaccination rates in Singapore continuing at 70,000+ per day, most of our readers probably won’t miss out for long.
A formal announcement on “the way forward” for the ATB, which may or may not include a proposed launch date, is due to be made this month.
(Cover Photo: Ansel Lee)