Singapore upbeat on Hong Kong travel, but don’t call it a bubble

Singapore upbeat on Hong Kong travel, but don’t call it a bubble

People queue to enquire about Sinovac vaccine at a clinic in Singapore June 18, 2021. (Reuters photo)
People queue to enquire about Sinovac vaccine at a clinic in Singapore June 18, 2021. (Reuters photo)

Singapore and Hong Kong are still trying to revive an agreement to allow quarantine-free travel between the two Asian financial hubs, which could be used as a model to open to more parts of the world, Singapore Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday.

With very low Covid-19 case counts, or none at all on many days, the cities are well positioned to open their borders again, Ong said, a positive sign for the on-again, off-again travel plan initially scheduled for last November but subsequently shelved.

“That gives us common ground to talk again about restarting the air travel bubble,” Ong said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “I try to not call it bubble as it connotes something very fragile and can easily burst -- I try to describe it as air travel corridor now, but the idea is the same.”

Singapore is set to loosen rules on activities such as dining out next week as its vaccination rate increases. The city-state is on track to have two-thirds of its population of almost 6 million fully inoculated by National Day on Aug 9.

As Singapore’s vaccination campaign gathers pace, the government’s stance has shifted toward learning to live with the virus rather than pursuing a so-called Covid-Zero approach of eliminating it altogether.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said this week her government needs to assess Singapore’s new Covid strategy as the two sides try to revive the travel arrangement, which was first shelved due to an outbreak in Hong Kong and then put on hold again this year following a Covid flareup in Singapore.

Singapore has reopened to quarantine-free travel from a handful of places such as China and New Zealand, where cases are low, and for a time Australia, Taiwan and Vietnam before outbreaks there. “We have opened up to them, we are just waiting when they will be comfortable to reciprocate,” Ong said.

On the other hand, while Singaporeans are able to travel freely to regions such as Europe, Singapore is waiting for cases there to drop and vaccinations to rise before reciprocating, Ong said.

“We’ve got to go beyond Hong Kong,” he said. “We hope Singapore-Hong Kong can materialise, can become a way forward and be a model for reference, but really we need to open up to more parts of the world.”

Covid deaths globally topped 4 million this week. Singapore has confirmed a total of 36 deaths and about 63,000 cases, while Hong Kong has reported 212 deaths and 11,948 infections overall.

“To truly recover from Covid, all round the world, different countries must all get a handle on the pandemic,” Ong said. “Only then will the world and global economy start to recover in a sustained way.”

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