Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors are to be revitalized soon as a travel bubble scheme with Singapore will begin in late May while mainlanders may visit the territory without being quarantined.
The Hong Kong government announced on Monday that the long-awaited scheme with Singapore will start on May 26 at the earliest. Under the agreement, residents will be allowed to travel between the cities on designated flights without the need to quarantine.
Travelers are required to test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours before they fly. They will also undergo another coronavirus test on arrival. However, Hong Kong participants will have to be fully vaccinated, except those under 16 or unsuitable for vaccination on medical grounds. Their counterparts in Singapore will be free from such requirement.
“We have made provisions for the entire community to be vaccinated so as to protect themselves and the purpose of asking Hong Kong residents going out to have vaccination prior to joining the scheme is in fact protecting their own health,” Edward Yau, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, said on Monday.
The Hong Kong government said that between May 26 and June 9, there will be one daily flight between Hong Kong and Singapore in each direction. Each flight will carry 200 travelers. From June 10, this will be increased to four flights per day – two in each direction – with the number of flights allocated between Singapore and Hong Kong-based airlines.
Patrick Nip, the Secretary for Civil Service and the official heading the government’s vaccination drive, said Hong Kong was seeking to set up travel bubbles with Japan, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. Nip said people in Hong Kong should get vaccinated as early as possible if they wanted to travel abroad.
The travel bubble with Singapore had been set for launch last November but was delayed due to the fourth-wave epidemic in Hong Kong.
Yiu Si-wing, a director at China Travel Service and a lawmaker representing the tourism sector, said he hoped the scheme would not be postponed again as it would be a light of hope for Hong Kong’s tourism sector.
On Monday, Wincastle Travel, a 35-year-old travel agency, said it had ceased operations on April 23 as the pandemic had seriously affected the tourism industry. It said it will start the liquidation process in accordance with the law.
About 30 staff of the company had been dismissed while 200 tourists had been affected, involving around HK$4 million (US$515,000) in travel costs, according to the Travel Industry Council.
“Relaunching the travel bubble with Singapore is the first step in Hong Kong’s resumption of international travel. The travel trade can seize this opportunity to warm themselves up and get prepared for the gradual return of more visitors to Hong Kong,” said Pang Yiu-kai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
“We expect that the visitor source at the early stage of the launch of the ATB will be from those who travel for family visits or other essential reasons, and leisure travelers will also return successively.”
The HKTB said more than 2,000 outlets including retail and dining outlets, hotels, attractions and other locations had so far been certified for their anti-epidemic measures.
Singapore Tourism Board said it was looking forward to receiving the tourists from Hong Kong next month. It said it had started easing its anti-epidemic rules since the end of last year with 46 tourist sites and 277 hotels reopened and more than 2,100 tours resumed.
It said the lion city would launch new tourism events and facilities, including a glass sculpture exhibition called Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom at Gardens by the Bay and the Museum of Ice Cream.
The Hong Kong government also announced on Monday that it would extend the Return2hk scheme from Guangdong province and Macao to other mainland provinces and municipalities. Hong Kong residents staying anywhere in mainland China will be allowed to return to the city from Thursday without needing to quarantine.
On top of the current scheme’s quota of 5,000 for people returning via the Shenzhen Bay port or the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, 1,000 residents will be able to fly back to Hong Kong, according to the government. The quota for the airport will be increased later.
People arriving at the airport will have to undergo a Covid test and wait for the result before proceeding to the immigration checkpoint. Another mandatory test will be arranged for them on the 12th day following their arrival.
The government said it planned to allow mainlanders to visit Hong Kong without being quarantined. However, it said there had been no news yet on when the mainland would exempt Hong Kong residents from quarantine when they travel across the border.
Over the past two weeks, 155 cases have been recorded, including 37 local cases, of which 17 are from unknown sources, according to the Center for Health Protection. On Sunday, only four imported cases were reported but three of them had the highly infectious N501Y variant.
Last Friday, a domestic helper who arrived from the Philippines on March 27 was identified to be infected with the N501Y variant.
Since moving into her employers’ home at Kennedy Terrace at 8 Kennedy Road on April 17, she had been to Central and Wan Chai before testing positive last Friday. Her employer’s family and all the 60 residents at Kennedy Terrace have been sent to quarantine.
When she was quarantined at the Ramada Hong Kong Harbour View hotel in Sai Ying Pun, she was next to a family who was later confirmed to be carrying the mutated strain. The Health Department is investigating whether there were cross-infections between the guests at the hotel.