COVID-19 Surge Pops Singapore-Hong Kong Travel Bubble

Cross-country travel in Asia is still plagued with uncertainty

Masked traveler in Singapore Changi Airport

Ore Huiying / Stringer / Getty Images

The hype over the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble seems to have been overblown, to the point of literally deflating sadly in Singapore Changi Airport’s arrival area.

The travel bubble—an agreement to relax travel restrictions between the two small but prosperous Asian polities—was scheduled to begin on Nov. 22. But a new wave of coronavirus infections in Hong Kong prompted a two-week postponement.

Both parties had earlier agreed to pause the bubble if the seven-day moving average of daily untraceable local cases exceeded five in either location. This threshold was breached on Nov. 22, with 5.29 average untraced infections in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s New Wave

As of Nov. 23, 73 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Hong Kong, the highest recorded in three months. Ten came from outside arrivals, and eight could not be traced to any known source.

An updated launch date for the travel bubble is expected to be announced by early December. In the meantime, both governments will “continue to closely monitor the epidemic situation of both places, exchange relevant data and statistics, and maintain close communication.”

This annoying hiccup has only underscored the difficulty in restarting Asian cross-country travel. Initiatives like the HK-SG travel bubble aside, unpredictable COVID surges, and disagreements between governments puts the good ol’ days of easy entry beyond our reach for now.

Thailand Leads the Way

That has not stopped Asian governments from continually reviewing and proposing new travel arrangements, mainly to relieve the economic turmoil dealt by the absence of tourism. The HK-SG travel route, for instance, would have meant some $12 million in revenue for Cathay Pacific had the bubble not been popped this week.

Thailand has gone the furthest in Asia to welcome tourists in the face of the pandemic. (Logical, too, considering tourism’s outsize value to the Kingdom: in 2019, the country earned $63.4 billion in tourism revenues)

Elephants in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Lauren DeCicca / Stringer / Getty Images

Measures taken by Thailand include:

  • Special Tourist Visa (STV): launched in September, the STV permits tourists from select “low-risk” countries to stay for up to 90 days in Thailand. Upon arrival, STV holders must quarantine for 14 days in a designated hotel. They should also provide evidence of insurance and long-term residence in Thailand, like hotel reservations, rental contracts, or evidence of condo ownership.
  • When originally launched, the STV required applicants to provide proof of income in the last six months equivalent to $17,000. This requirement has been quietly relaxed—the Thai embassy in Los Angeles lists a revised figure of $700 per person or $1,500 per family.
  • Tracking app: to facilitate contact tracing and individual tracking of tourists, the Thai government will require visitors to install an app called “Thailand Plus.” Using the app, officials can track tourists’ whereabouts in the Kingdom, allowing tourist authorities to act quickly and prevent contagion.

Other Cross-Country Initiatives

Japan has implemented limited travel bubbles covering other Asian nations. As of September 8, long-term Japan residents from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam will be permitted to enter the country. Short-term business travel between Japan and Singapore, the Republic of Korea, and Vietnam has also been approved. Visitors must self-quarantine for 14 days upon entry.

Other cross-country initiatives in the region, so far, have not gone any further than the drawing board.

A new outbreak of COVID-19 in South Australia has put the kibosh on a proposed travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand. And a proposed travel corridor arrangement between Southeast Asian countries has not gone much further than a resolution approved on November 12. Indonesia, the main proponent of the corridor idea, is currently struggling with Southeast Asia’s largest COVID-19 outbreak.

The situation is still highly fluid—travelers still bent on traveling to Asia will need to remain informed of daily country updates. With surprise pandemic surges around every corner, it’s not time yet to make any definitive plans, as hundreds of frustrated Singapore and Hong Kong travelers can tell you.

Article Sources
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  1. Coconuts Hong Kong. "Balloon arch heralding Singapore travel bubble lies in sad, deflated heap at airport after cases spike in Hong Kong." November 23, 2020.

  2. Government of Hong Kong SAR. "Designated flights under HK-Singapore Air Travel Bubble to launch November 22." November 11, 2020.

  3. Government of Hong Kong SAR. "Inaugural flights under HK-Singapore Air Travel Bubble deferred for two weeks." November 21, 2020.

  4. Hong Kong Tourism Board. "Hong Kong-Singapore Air Travel Bubble (ATB) Frequently Asked Questions." November 11, 2020.

  5. South China Morning Post. "Cathay Pacific says demand for Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble flights was ‘overwhelming’, before Covid-19 fourth wave forced delay." November 23, 2020.

  6. Hong Kong Free Press. "2 Hong Kong private clubs temporarily close following Covid-19 cases." November 23, 2020.

  7. Bangkok Post. "Foreign Tourist arrivals up 4% in 2019." November 24, 2020.

  8. TAT News. "Thai Cabinet approves ‘special tourist visa’ for long-staying visitors." September 16, 2020.

  9. Royal Thai Consulate General, Los Angeles. "Tourist visa “TR” (Single Entry only)." September 2020.

  10. Chiang Rai Times. "Thailand’s Government Looks to Introduce Tracking App for Tourists." November 24, 2020.

  11. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. "Phased Measures for Resuming Cross-Border Travel." November 24, 2020.

  12. The Guardian. "Australia-New Zealand bubble by Christmas all but dead, Jacinda Ardern warns." November 16, 2020.

  13. Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretariat. "ASEAN Declaration on an ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework." November 12, 2020.

  14. Bloomberg. "Indonesia Pushes for Southeast Asia Travel Bubble in Early 2021." November 12, 2020

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