With tourism being one of the major backbones of the Hong Kong economy, this sector was struck hard by the pandemic, resulting in a recession in economic growth.
In order to give a boost to the economic recovery, the Hong Kong government and the Singapore government have reached a milestone agreement on setting up a “travel bubble” to restart the tourism industry.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau released the progress report on the agreement between the Hong Kong government and the Singapore government on October 15. Yau explained that the agreement will lift the restrictions on travel purposes and travellers will not be required to quarantine, stay home or have controlled itinerary upon arrival.
“This is a milestone in our efforts to resume normalcy while fighting against the long-drawn battle of COVID-19,” said Yau.
Features of the Air Travel Bubble
The in-principle agreement was reached during a video conference on October 14 between Yau and Mr Ong We Kung, the Minister for Transport of the Republic of Singapore. The details are as follows:
- there are no restrictions on travel purpose;
- travellers under the ATB will be subject to mutually recognised COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction tests and would need to have negative test results;
- travellers under the ATB will not be subject to any quarantine or Stay-Home Notice requirements, or a controlled itinerary;
- travellers under the ATB will be required to travel on dedicated flights, i.e. these flights will only serve ATB travellers and no transit passengers or non-ATB travellers will be allowed on board; and
- the ATB can be scaled by adjusting the number of dedicated flights upwards or downwards, or even suspended, in line with the latest developments and COVID-19 situation in the two cities.
Yau said the government is expected to put all the requirements in place in the coming few weeks and reach a mutual recognition on testing protocols.
Apart from Singapore, the Hong Kong government has reached out to a total of 10 other countries since September. Popular travel destinations such as Japan, Thailand and South Korea are on the list. However, Taiwan is not included.
Travel bubbles around the world
From a worldwide perspective, Hong Kong is among the first countries to create travel bubbles.
However, concerns raised as the number of new COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong hovered around 10 per day for the past 2 weeks, and some public health professionals such as microbiologist Professor Yeun Kwok-Yung and Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan pointed out the possible upcoming of the fourth wave of coronavirus in Hong Kong.
For the other bubbles in the world, some remained, some burst, and some are still underway.
The first travel bubble was between the Baltic countries in Europe, which was established in May. It burst in early September due to the rebound of infection numbers in Estonia, which led it Latvia requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from Estonia.
Within the European countries, there is a huge existing bubble created by the European Union (EU) through “Re-open EU”. Member states eased the travel restrictions between themselves from June.
In Australia, New Zealand and Australia negotiated the possibility of setting up a bubble. The “Trans-Tasman bubble” would allow citizens to travel between the countries without quarantining or testing. The plans were halted due to an outbreak in Victoria state in Australia. Till now, only a one-way Safe Travel zone was implemented on October 16, which allows travellers to enter New South Wales and Northern Territory from New Zealand without quarantine.
The question of whether the bubble can last long is to be observed, as the patterns of outbreak remain unpredictable and the uncertainty of when the pandemic will go downhill.
If the situation of the pandemic is not under control in Hong Kong, stricter regulations may be enforced and implementation of the travel bubble between Hong Kong and other countries will be halted, just like other countries who have either created a bubble or planning to create one.
Feedback from the public
Even though Hongkongers are eager to travel since the lockdown in March, the response from the public may not be as positive as expected.
One of the major concerns would be the safety of flights. As the plane is a hermetic space which hinders air circulation, flights still remain as one of the most dangerous places to be infected.
Another problem is the price of the tickets. Since the passengers are required to maintain a safe distance from each other, some seats will be intentionally left empty, thus increasing the ticket price.
And most importantly, the attractiveness of the destination. Singapore has a similar culture, which three-fourths of the population are Chinese. Also, the food options and tourist attractions may not be that tempting to Hongkongers in general.
Some citizens may opt for existent replacements for travelling, such as “staycation” and “flycation”. The hotel discounts make the former option more attractive, while the latter can satisfy citizen’s wish for boarding a flight to satisfy their travel desires.
(Feature Image: Jisun Han on Unsplash)