Last week, Singapore and Hong Kong announced that they have agreed to pair up this cuffing season to create the world’s first reciprocal travel bubble. While Australia and New Zealand teased the idea months ago, the small island country of New Zealand—which, at one point, had totally eradicated the virus—was hesitant to commit.
The new ‘bubble’ agreement between Hong Kong and Singapore is scheduled to take effect on Nov. 22. It allows Singapore and Hong Kong citizens to fly freely between the two countries without having to quarantine. However, travelers aren’t completely off the hook from any COVID-19 screenings or protocols.
Departing travelers from either country will still be required to show proof of a negative PCR test taken within at least 72 hours of takeoff. Additionally, travelers coming into Hong Kong will need to take another test on arrival. Plus, everyone is still required to follow whatever local laws are in place for COVID-19 safety measures such as curfews, wearing masks, and social distancing.
To be eligible for these travel bubble privileges, travelers will have to be in either Hong Kong or Singapore for the 14 days leading up to their flight.
So, what exactly makes this travel bubble so special when places like Mexico and Costa Rica have already swung their borders wide open to the world—with no PCR tests or quarantines required for entry? In that respect, not much—but it is a big deal for Hong Kong and Singapore. Both countries currently have very restricted border requirements and mandatory 14-day quarantines.
For example, Singapore is currently open to just a few countries for tourism—Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, certain cities in mainland China, Brunei Darussalam, and Hong Kong—and only for short stays. Travelers from these areas must apply for an Air Travel Pass. The country has also set up a Green Pass Lane, a reciprocal safety corridor, with Japan, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea, allowing for approved short-term business and essential travel. Being able to skip through the red tape and enter for any reason for longer periods.
“This is as close as it gets to cross-border travel pre-COVID-19,” Hong Kong’s Secretary for Economic Development and Commerce, Edward Yau, said in a statement. “And this is only possible because both Singapore and Hong Kong have successfully controlled the spread of COVID-19.”
The travel bubble experiment will kick off with once-a-day direct flights between cities. To clamp down on possible transit passengers, these specific travel bubble flights will only be available to passengers originating in either country. If all goes well, flight numbers may increase to twice a week sometime in December.