Bags were packed, planes were probably being polished, but just days before the first flights under the newly attempted Singapore-Hong Kong “travel bubble” were due to depart, plans for the safe and quarantine free travel bubble are being temporarily shelved.
Countries around the world are taking unique and different approaches to risks associated with travel, with each bringing benefits and challenges.
Some countries with high levels of vaccination are are opening up to fully vaccinated people, and essentially ignoring covid-19 case counts, focusing on hospitalizations and deaths to drive the science. Others, however, aren’t tolerating even single digit case counts, particularly in areas where vaccinations haven’t been as steady.
Travel “bubbles” have been a key area of interest for the most risk averse nations in Asia and Pacific, like Australia and New Zealand, and Hong Kong and Singapore have attempted to follow suit. But with a metric of 5 cases being enough to pause plans, it’s unsure when (or if) planes or plans will ever lift off for quarantine free travel.
Bursting The Travel Bubble
With relatively strong safety in both regions, Hong Kong and Singapore announced plans to reboot efforts for a reciprocal travel bubble in recent weeks, where visitors could once again enjoy leisure travel, without any major quarantine on either side.
Airlines invited media guests, and flights sold out in minutes.
You just needed a test before departure, and to maintain social distancing rules. Singapore added a second layer of testing, but with rapid results, quarantine was only expected to be one day. For restaurants, shops and businesses in each city, it was the news they’d been waiting for – customers, and planes full of them!
With pent up demand, all the flights sold out for weeks, almost instantly.
But sadly, the first flights due to depart on May 26th, 2021, won’t be going ahead as planned. The tough decision has been made to pause plans, amid recent worries with rising case counts in Singapore, according to SCMP. The city experienced five untraced cases, as of the time of writing.
As of now, there’s going to be a pause of at least two further weeks, before plans go ahead, and any future plans will be reassessed based on the current situation in each city. June 13th, would be the earliest possible date for the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble to launch.
The burst bubbles illustrate the challenges of these ideally sound, but realistically difficult, principles for travel.
Many health experts expect covid-19 will become a managed and less deadly part of life, just like the flu or common cold in the years to come, as vaccination and medicine helps to eliminate worst case scenarios. On this basis, pursuing zero cases would make it extremely difficult for a country to ever reopen.
Travelers can still move between the two areas, but all visitors would be required to quarantine under current, extremely strict rules, until bubble plans resume. In other words – for leisure travelers, plans are on hold. For airlines keen to cash in on sold out flights once again, it’s yet another bump in a long and winding road to recovery.
Singapore previously announced travel bubble plans with Australia, via an ‘air travel pass’ program, but with outbound travel barred in Australia still, no one is really able to go.
With a race for vaccine distribution moving into high gear, it will be interesting to watch whether any travel bubbles actually fully bubble, or whether good news of wider travel agreements will come first, thanks to vaccination data.