A child stands on a metal frame to join a parade during the Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival in Hong Kong. Photo: discoverhongkong.com

The “travel bubble” between Hong Kong and Singapore may fail to take off for a second time after recent Covid-19 outbreaks in both cities.

On April 14, Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the cities were actively discussing re-starting the travel bubble. Both sides were finalizing details of the revised agreement and hoped to make an announcement soon.

The scheme was postponed from the original start date of November 22 last year due to Hong Kong’s fourth-wave. Media reported this week it would kick off in mid-May.

Hong Kong International Airport. Uncertainty surrounds plans to restart travel to Singapore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The governments originally planned to announce the scheme on Thursday but the announcement was canceled by the Singapore side, according to people familiar with the situation.

The cancelation came after at least three people were infected with the highly contagious South African variant at a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong while a dozen migrant workers who lived in a dormitory in Singapore tested positive.

A source told Hong Kong media on Thursday that the scheme was not scrapped but would be announced early next week. The source said the scheme would begin in late May with terms similar to those in November, except that Hong Kong’s participants would be required to be fully vaccinated 14 days before departure.

Under the previously announced terms, the scheme will be suspended if the seven-day moving average of unlinked cases exceeds five per day.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health said Tuesday that a 35-year-old Bangladeshi construction worker staying at Westlite Woodlands dormitory tested positive for the coronavirus. The worker received his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on March 12 and the second dose on April 13.

Visitors at Changi Airport wearing masks after Singapore confirmed the first case of the virus on the eve of the festive Lunar New Year. Photo: AFP/Zakaria Zainal/Anadolu Agency

On Wednesday, the city-state’s Ministry of Manpower said another 11 workers staying at the same dormitory tested positive. Hundreds of workers will be sent to a quarantine facility.

Last year, thousands of Covid cases were identified at migrant worker dorms in Singapore. Until August 19, all dorms in the country were declared clear of the coronavirus. Since then, only sporadic cases in dorms have been reported.

“We have not fixed a date to announce the resumption of the travel bubble, but will do so once we are ready, hopefully very soon,” a Transport Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

In Hong Kong, 11 local cases with no known source have been recorded in the past week. The Center for Health Protection said 12 imported cases and two local infections with unknown sources were confirmed on Wednesday.

Yiu Si-wing, the lawmaker representing the tourism sector, said Thursday he expected the travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong would happen in May. Yiu said it was a good sign that Singapore would reduce by a week the quarantine period for people arriving from Hong Kong from Friday.

Besides, Yiu said local tours in Hong Kong would probably resume on May 8 at the earliest as the territory’s coronavirus situation eased. He said an announcement would be made after the Executive Council approved the relaxation of social distancing measures on April 28.

“We have come to a consensus that people who join local tours would only be required to use the LeaveHomeSafe app. We think it’s a reasonable arrangement. Frontline staff who will come into contact with our customers will be required to get vaccinated,” he said.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department also announced Thursday that some recreation and sports programs would gradually resume from May 3. The programs include training courses and fun days to be held at sports premises of indoor and outdoor venues, public swimming pools as well as water sports centers.
However, Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said the government should not further loosen Hong Kong’s social distancing rules at this stage as there had been 11 local cases with unknown sources in the past week, meaning that virus transmission chains had not been cut off completely.

Leung said it would be better if the government could wait two more weeks before easing anti-epidemic rules.

On April 12, the government announced a “vaccine bubble” scheme in which t restaurants will be allowed to have six people at one table and open until midnight from April 29 if all their staff have their first dose of Covid vaccine.

Bars, karaoke lounges, party venues, bathhouses, mahjong parlors and nightclubs will be allowed to reopen at limited capacity on that day if all their staff and customers have got their first dose. 

As of Wednesday, 1.17 million vaccine doses had been administered in Hong Kong. About 773,900 people had received their first dose, with about 389,100 people getting the Sinovac vaccine and about 384,900 people the BioNTech vaccine. About 399,200 people have received their second dose. 

On Thursday, the Census and Statistics Department announced that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fellto 6.8% in the three months between January and March from 7.2% between December and February. The under-employment rate also decreased to 3.8% from 4%. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that Hong Kong had passed the worst time after the city was hit by the social unrest and pandemic.

Read: HK shocked by South African strain’s hotel spread