The highly-anticipated air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong has been delayed as Singapore battles with a rising number of unlinked cases tied to the more aggressive and transmissible coronavirus strain known as B.1.617.
A further announcement should be made on or before June 13, the Hong Kong government said in a statement Monday.
Singapore Minister for Transport S Iswaran said that as Singapore is unable to meet the criteria to start the travel bubble, both sides have agreed to defer the launch. The bubble was due to start May 26.
Both governments remain committed to the arrangement, “with a view to resuming air travel between the two regional aviation hubs and international cities in a gradual and orderly manner under a set of stringent public health control protocols,” the Hong Kong government said in its statement.
Singapore’s government last week imposed lockdown-like restrictions for a month until June 13 amid a rise in untraceable virus infections.
The biggest number of new cases are linked to a cluster at Changi Airport, which prompted the closure of two terminals and the Jewel shopping complex for two weeks.
Of the 17 unlinked cases identified on Sunday, six patients preliminarily tested positive for the B.1.617 strain, according to Ministry of Health data. Among them, two had already gotten their first vaccine dose.
In all, Singapore reported 38 new cases of Covid-19 infection in the community on Sunday – the highest in more than a year.
The bubble delay comes as Hong Kong looks to reclassify Singapore as a high-risk destination, according to local Hong Kong media reports.
That would mean unvaccinated arrivals to Hong Kong from Singapore may have to quarantine at designated hotels for 21 days as well as present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding their flights.
The quarantine-free air travel arrangement was initially set to start last November but was first delayed by rising cases in Hong Kong.
Under the agreement, if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local cases is more than five in either Singapore and Hong Kong, the bubble will be suspended for two weeks. Currently, that number is hovering around 4.7.
Travelers with bookings on designated flights during the period have been advised to contact their airlines and adjust their itineraries.
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