Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble replaces quarantine with testing

Travellers between the two financial hubs will be tested for virus, showing how future bubbles could take shape.

By Bloomberg News, October 15 2020
Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble replaces quarantine with testing

Singapore and Hong Kong will open their borders to one another for the first time in almost seven months, exempting people in both cities from compulsory quarantine in an agreement that will reinstate links between Asia’s two premier financial hubs.

Compulsory quarantine will be replaced by coronavirus testing, Singaporean Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung told reporters Thursday, and he hopes the bubble will start in “weeks.” Hong Kong’s commerce and economic development minister, Edward Yau, confirmed the pact soon after.

Yau said business travelers will get priority in the initial stages of the travel bubble, the arrangements of which could be adjusted if the epidemic improves or worsens. Details of the agreement will be fleshed out in the coming weeks, the Hong Kong government said in a statement, without giving any date for when the plan will come into effect.

Travelers must have been in Hong Kong or Singapore for 14 days before departure and will need to take mutually recognized Covid-19 tests and require negative results. Neither side disclosed the cost of the tests.

A small but significant step

“It’s a small step but a significant one because both Hong Kong and Singapore are regional aviation hubs,” Ong said.

“For the two of us to be able to control the epidemic, to come together to discuss and establish this air travel bubble, hopefully sets a model for us to forge more such relationships and partnerships.”

Hong Kong closed itself off to non-residents in March and enforced strict measures after its outbreak worsened in July.

Though new daily cases have dropped to single- or low double-digits, social distancing rules remain in place, including limiting social gatherings to four people. The city has reported 5,213 infections and 105 deaths. There were 12 new cases Thursday, eight of which were imported.

Singapore, which also closed its borders in March, has 57,889 confirmed cases and 28 deaths, with the bulk of its outbreak among the migrant worker community.

Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines have been hit particularly hard by travel curbs and the drop in demand from the coronavirus pandemic because they don’t have a domestic market to fall back on. Shares in both airlines ticked up on news of the bubble.

High hopes for bubbles

Governments around the world have been trying to create travel bubbles to help reboot their economies and aviation industries. Opening up is particularly important for places such as Hong Kong and Singapore as they rely so heavily on international connectivity.

Travel bubbles have proved difficult to establish because the virus keeps flaring, even in communities where it was thought to have been eliminated. People are largely avoiding travel, anyway, because of the strict quarantine requirements in many jurisdictions.

A June survey of travelers by the International Air Transport Association found that 83% were unwilling to travel if it involved a 14-day quarantine period.

“We welcome the announcement by Hong Kong and Singapore on establishing a travel bubble between the two cities,” IATA said in a statement Thursday.

“We also urge other governments in Asia to take a similar approach to replace quarantine with Covid-19 testing as part of their efforts to re-open their borders and start restoring their economies.”

In an interview with Bloomberg Television broadcast earlier Thursday, Ong said effective virus testing was key to replacing quarantine and reviving travel. “We have to gradually open up the borders, establish the key links that made us a hub,” he said.

Ong said in Parliament last week that there’s a desire internationally to cautiously open the skies up again, and that Hong Kong intended to negotiate travel bubble arrangements with places including Singapore.

Earlier this week, Singapore lowered the quarantine threshold for travelers coming from Hong Kong to seven days from 14. It added Hong Kong to its list of countries considered “well under control and the risk of importation is low,” according to the city-state’s Ministry of Health.

Singapore recorded no new local cases of Covid-19 for the first time since February this week, as it rebounds from an outbreak in migrant worker dormitories that at one stage contributed to over a thousand infections a day.

Other travel bubbles take shape

Australia and New Zealand have several times tried to make progress on establishing a travel bubble, only for the plans to collapse

In the latest development, the eastern state of New South Wales will from Friday allow visitors from New Zealand without the need to quarantine.

Travelers flying from Auckland are required to complete a declaration form stating they’ve been in New Zealand for the past 14 days. Health screening will take place on arrival and the rule covers passengers landing in Sydney. New Zealand is still enforcing mandatory quarantine.

India has established bilateral travel bubbles with 17 countries, the latest being Ukraine. That’s despite the South Asian nation having one of the worst outbreaks worldwide, with over seven million infections and more than 110,000 deaths. Other nations it has agreements with include the U.S., U.K., Germany, Afghanistan and Canada.

Some countries have agreements on fast-track travel, primarily aimed at allowing business executives to enter provided they pass tests and have necessary documents.

South Korea, for example, allows some visitors to avoid the 14-day quarantine with an “Isolation Exemption Certificate” issued by a Korean embassy or consulate. Even then they must be tested on arrival and stay in a designated facility for as long as two days until the test comes back negative.

Others remain largely off-limits. South Africa has restarted flights but isn’t allowing non-resident passengers from a long list of countries including Brazil, the U.S., U.K. and India.

China has suspended entry by foreign nationals holding residence permits, though there are several conditions that can bypass that, such as if the permit is for the purpose of work.

Hong Kong has required that arrivals first go to a temporary center for deep throat saliva samples when they land at the airport.

Passengers wait at the center until the tests are processed, at which point – provided the results are negative – they can start the 14-day quarantine period. The requirements and paperwork are stricter for arrivals from places deemed high risk, which include Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal, the Philippines, the U.K. and the U.S.

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2014

Total posts 156

Something wrong with those Singapore case numbers. Almost 58,000 cases and only 28 deaths? I don't think so. There's some creative accounting going on there. 

15 Oct 2020

Total posts 4

Probably considering death differently from Australia. If you died of pneumonia/sepsis due to Covid then it would be considered a covid death. In Aus, US and UK, deaths are counted whether or not you died directly due to covid. If you had a car accident and tested positive for covid, then you're considered a covid death. If you shot yourself and tested positive for covid, then you're a covid death.

Multiple studies have shown that the death rate is <1% overall from all age groups, and closer to 0.1% if you only consider direct cause of death due to covid.


09 May 2020

Total posts 554

Actually the World Health Organisation do have a specific guideline on what is a COVID death vs death not attributed to COVID-19.

Having shot yourself and tested positive for COVID (before or after death) should not be counted as COVID deaths under this WHO guideline, whereas if documented as died of pneumonia but found to be COVID positive just before or after death would have been counted as one.

For some reason I can’t vouch for Australian stats but it is clear that UK actually under report COVID death as all deaths reported during the pandemic is about 20% more than what is reported by the UK health system the NHS (and if they add reported official COVID death figures to historical comparative numbers from 2019, there is still a big gap in numbers this not adding up to all death stats) meaning that the official figures are not reliable. At one earlier stage they even do not count COVID deaths from nursing home which sounds crazy but true

For the US it’s even worse since during the early stage when it’s really hits them in states like NY there wasn’t even enough testing kits around and many people including those ended up dying  ended up not tested and were able to be confirmed as COVID-19 deaths. Added to this was Trumps rhetoric earlier in the pandemic that if you don’t test for COVID you won’t find COVID which sounds incredible but end up being what some states did until the state health administration realised the healthcare workers doesn’t buy this logic

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Feb 2011

Total posts 12

I live in Singapore and the numbers are correct, social distancing and mask wearing has been compulsory since March (and being Singapore there is a hefty fine for non compliance).  In the early months of the Pandemic every person who tested positive for COVID-19 was hospitalized, and the entire city was in lock down additionally as XWu noted the vast majority of cases have been in "Dormitories" occupied by migrant workers, who tend to be in the 30s to 40s and relatively physically fit.  


09 May 2020

Total posts 554

There may be interesting numbers but not the ones you pointed out.

> 90% of the 60k cases are male migrant workers (and mostly labourers... with certain age range and fitness), probably less than 5 died although some others (<5) died of unnatural causes after being getting COVID, May have self harmed (and not counted in COVID tally in accordance with WHO rules)

06 Oct 2018

Total posts 10

I’ve never been so envious before!!!


03 May 2013

Total posts 667

I'd be very reluctant to be calling HKG a "hub" for anything other than chaos at the moment which is very sad. I doubt it will retain its mega hub status. Any business that was based in HKG has or is relocating to SIN and rightly so. The smart ones read the writing on the wall and started to move slowly a few years ago.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 120

HKG is a hub though - whether you do or don’t see it that way. I’m not sure which of these companies have uprooted their operations from HKG to SIN. The logistics and cost associated must have been minimal considering the potential writing on the wall. 


13 Sep 2013

Total posts 115

"Any business that was based in HKG has or is relocating to SIN and rightly so."

Would love to know your sources on this one? As someone who's actually based in HK, this has hardly been the case at all!

KW72 Banned
KW72 Banned

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 242

What rubbish. 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2555

Several comments which are off-topic – that is, not directly related to the Singapore-Hong Kong bubble – have been removed. This includes comments on Australia's (federal & state) approach to Covid-19, as well as a range of other broader comments on Covid-19 without direct relevance to the SIN-HKG bubble. Readers are reminded to keep their comments under articles on the topic of that article.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2555

As some readers can't grasp the concept of staying on topic and adding value to the conversation, all comments on this article are now being held for moderation. We'll review them at various times throughout the day as time permits, although our first priority remains actually working on the stories which people come here to read, and as always we reserve the right to edit a comment or hold it back.

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