You only have to cast your mind back around two years and you will no doubt recall that the first quarantine-free travel option for Singapore residents during COVID-19 looked all set to be a reciprocal Air Travel Bubble (ATB) with Hong Kong.
The plan was to allow an initial 200 people per day able to travel in each direction between the two cities on designated flights, all of whom would have to stump up over S$400 of testing costs on a round-trip!
No one likely needs reminding of the on-and-off basis of the arrangement that then ensued over the following nine months, and after two failed start attempts the idea was eventually abandoned, as Singapore moved towards reopening to other countries, while Hong Kong followed China’s strict “zero-COVID” strategy.
Hong Kong has finally reopened
As it turns out, Hong Kong went from being the potential first quarantine-free travel option for Singapore residents to one of the last, with the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China only finally beginning to relax its entry requirements in September 2022, nearly two years after the ill-fated ATB was first due to launch.
Here’s how the city’s most significant reopening steps have looked:
- 26th September 2022: Hotel quarantine was scrapped, though a strict testing regime and the inability to access most venues for a 3-day period after arrival remained (i.e. benefit primarily for returning residents).
- 17th November 2022: Two out of four PCR tests for arriving travellers were removed, along with slight concessions over 3-day post-arrival movement restrictions.
- 14th December 2022: Post-arrival movement restrictions were scrapped, but PCR testing remained.
- 29th December 2022: On-arrival and post-arrival PCR testing was scrapped, leaving a pre-departure ART self-swab as the only mandatory test.
Now there’s a new relaxation in store from next week, simplifying the arrival process for visitors and returning residents even further.
- 6th February 2023: Vaccination requirement for overseas arrivals will be scrapped.
For arrivals on or before 5th February 2023, non-Hong Kong residents aged 12 and above still have to prove full vaccination (two doses of most vaccines like Pfizer, Moderna, Sinovac etc). Specific requirements by vaccine brand are listed here. Proof of vaccination is currently checked by your airline prior to boarding.
This latest relaxation will remove the vaccination requirement, and allow literally anyone who is eligible to enter Hong Kong either visa-free or with an appropriate tourist or visitor visa to do so with only one self-administered ART swab before departure, which does not need to be supervised (you just take a picture of the result).
Hopefully the (very straightforward) pre-departure test requirement will also now be short-lived, which would return Hong Kong travel to almost entirely pre-pandemic norms, a situation that still seemed unthinkable five months ago.
Latest process for travel to Hong Kong
Here’s the latest process for travel to Hong Kong from outside mainland China, Macao or Taiwan, from 6th February 2023.
Travel to Hong Kong
|Eligibility & Vaccination|
|COVID-19 Tests (travellers aged 4+)|
You may also choose to have a clinic PCR test within 48 hours of departure instead of a self-swab pre-departure ART within 24 hours, but why you would want to choose this more expensive and unnecessary option we have no idea!
It certainly won’t be of interest to our Singapore-based readers, with cheap (S$5) rapid test kits widely available.
Just remember to take a photo of your negative pre-departure ART result and keep it for 90 days.
Pre-departure testing applies to those aged four and above on the date of travel to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s e-Health declaration form is no longer mandatory for travellers, but you can use it to upload your pre-departure test (photo of negative ART) if you wish.
What if you test positive for COVID-19?
There’s more good news for those (understandably) worried about the implications of testing positive for COVID-19 while visiting Hong Kong, since a five-day isolation order was previously in force, and not all hotels would let you isolate there, restricting most travellers to booking a property that would do so, just in case.
Since 30th January 2023, no quarantine is required for COVID-19 patients in the city-state, whether residents or visitors, removing the previous five-day isolation order.
Symptomatic persons should simply stay at their hotel or in their own accommodation, and avoid going out.
If you require medical care, you can visit any of Hong Kong’s general out-patient clinics or private medical practitioners listed on the government website for the prescription of COVID-19 oral drugs and any further assistance, if required.
Bear in mind that while travel insurance is not mandatory for visitors, you will have to bear your own cost for relevant charges as a consequence of a positive COVID-19 test result, so it’s always a good idea to have a comprehensive policy including this aspect to cover your entire trip.
Mask-wearing is still required
One of the last COVID-19 prevention measures Hong Kong still retains is the requirement to wear a mask in public spaces, indoors or outdoors, including on public transport, unless you are in a country park or are conducting strenuous physical activity.
Masks must also be worn on all flights to and from Hong Kong, except when eating or drinking.
This is becoming an increasingly rare requirement globally, and even in the Asia-Pacific region, with South Korea recently scrapping its mask mandate across both indoor and outdoor settings.
Taiwan has also removed the requirement to wear masks outdoors, with an indoor relaxation also in the pipeline.
Singapore now only requires mask-wearing on public transport and in healthcare settings.
Hong Kong’s strict stance on mask-wearing will no doubt still be enough to discourage many from visiting, especially from places where any such requirement was ditched long ago, like Europe.
Singapore – Hong Kong flights
Since Hong Kong went quarantine-free, flight schedules have progressively increased and there are now 63 weekly flights between Singapore and the city state.
That’s more than double the volume running when quarantine was first dropped in September 2022, but still less than half pre-pandemic levels of 137 per week (January 2020).
March 2023 flights are shown in the following table.
Singapore – Hong Kong flights
|Airline / Flight Number||Aircraft||Days
Cathay Pacific in particular has ramped up to four daily flights this month, while SIA has three daily services including its highest capacity aircraft – the A380.
Singapore Airlines reinstated its third daily Hong Kong flight (SQ892/893) on 15th January 2023, using an Airbus A350 Long Haul aircraft, which supplements the additional SQ882/883 added a month earlier, and a daily Airbus A380 service operating since 1st December 2022.
Hong Kong has now featured in SIA’s Spontaneous Escapes monthly award promotion in both January 2023 and February 2023, with discounted redemptions in Economy, Premium Economy and Business Class, including on the Airbus A380. Let’s hope the trend continues for the March offer, which will be released in mid-February.
Hong Kong is now essentially back to a pre-pandemic travel process for visitors and returning residents, with only a self-swab ART test to conduct yourself at home, snapping a photo of the negative result in case anyone asks to see it later.
That requirement should eventually vanish too in due course (the HK Government itself admits it is keeping it only “for the time being”), but it’s hardly arduous anyway.
Crucially there is no quarantine, no isolation, no movement restrictions, no vaccine pass, no forms to complete, no on-arrival or post-arrival testing, and from 6th February 2023, no vaccination requirement either.
It’s a far cry from the original ATB proposal with Singapore, which never even got off the ground!
Isolation has also been scrapped for those testing positive while in the city-state – you’re now just recommended to stay in your accommodation, and there is no longer a special list of hotels where you can do this.
Group size and social gathering restrictions have also been disbanded, though the final show-stopper for some travellers does unfortunately remain – mandatory mask-wearing in both indoor and (most) outdoor settings.
Will you be planning a trip to Hong Kong with this latest simplified process? Let us know in the comments section below!
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)