A long-awaited Covid-19 travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will remain on course for a mid-May launch, according to sources, despite the former having confirmed community cases of a mutated coronavirus strain.
The two cities are set to outline plans in the coming days for restoring travel links next month, sources familiar with the talks have revealed.
“We will not pull out of the plan,” a Hong Kong government insider said on Tuesday morning. “The Singapore government is very keen on materialising it as soon as possible.”
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The development came as Singapore announced it would halve the isolation period required for travellers from Hong Kong to seven days starting from Thursday and they would also be allowed to stay at their place of residence instead of a dedicated government facility.
Hong Kong authorities also recently eased restrictions for Singaporeans, allowing those who were not vaccinated to quarantine for 14 days at a designated hotel followed by seven days of “self-monitoring”, compared to 21 days at a hotel previously.
The insider said the timing of the imminent announcement on the travel bubble was aimed at allowing sufficient time for interested travellers to be fully vaccinated, a condition for Hongkongers joining the scheme.
The Hong Kong government classifies someone as fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving their final jab.
But Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a Chinese University respiratory medicine expert and government adviser on the pandemic, called on both sides to first overcome the threat of coronavirus strains before relaunching travel.
He said he was not optimistic a travel bubble between the two cities could be established at this stage.
“Singapore is also facing the same problem as Hong Kong. Many of Indian descent have returned to Singapore which has caused a rise in cases. Even with many negative tests at quarantine hotels, sometimes they only test positive after coming back into the community,” Hui said.
Hong Kong is on alert after a 29-year-old man working in Dubai as an engineer was confirmed on Saturday to be the first locally detected Covid-19 case with the N501Y mutation, which has been linked to more infectious variants.
His friend, a 31-year-old woman, was confirmed to be infected the next day. Hui also suggested the strain was the South African variant.
The Post last week exclusively reported the bubble with Singapore could launch as early as mid-May.
Commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah on Saturday promised that authorities would look again at whether the measures under discussion were sufficient, based on the latest developments.
Experts in Singapore also pointed to the detection of two new local infection clusters over the past week in the country as a sign residents should not let their guard down.
One of them involved an Indian national who experienced onset of Covid-19 symptoms on April 12 when he reported for work at the National University of Singapore. He had completed his quarantine obligations following a trip to India from December 28 to March 21, testing negative three times in quarantine.
At the centre of the other cluster was a 50-year-old Colombian national who came to Singapore from Papua New Guinea for a project, but tested positive on March 30. Four others, including those on his flight and from his workplace, were later confirmed to be infected.
The travel arrangement was initially set for last November 22, but put on hold indefinitely on its eve following a fresh Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong.
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