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Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble faces last-minute delay as Covid-19 cases surge

Two global financial hubs, Singapore and Hong Kong, have postponed the long-anticipated launch of a quarantine-free air travel corridor for at least two weeks amid concerns over rising coronavirus cases.

The two cities announced the change of plans on Saturday, just hours after Singapore said the air travel bubble will go ahead as planned despite the worsening pandemic situation in Hong Kong. The flights, intended to carry 200 passengers each way, were scheduled to take off on Sunday.

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“Given the evolving situation in Hong Kong, Secretary Edward Yau and I discussed further this afternoon, and decided that it would be better to defer the launch of the ATB [air travel bubble], by two weeks,” Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung wrote on Facebook on Saturday afternoon referring to talks with the Hong Kong secretary for commerce and economic development.

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The official added that the plan will be further reviewed afterwards when a new launch date will be announced.

Hong Kong has seen a spike in coronavirus cases this week, prompting the local government to impose additional restrictions, including closures of schools. On Saturday, the city reported 43 new infections, including 13 locally transmitted untraceable infections.

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The latter indicator, and its seven-day moving average in particular, was supposed to hit five in either city for the travel agreement to be postponed. While it did not hit the agreed level in Hong Kong, the average of unlinked Covid-19 cases saw a sharp rise in one day, jumping from 2.1 on Friday to almost four on Saturday.

“For any scheme to be successful, they must fulfill the condition of securing public health, and also make sure that both sides would be comfortable and feel safe about the scheme,” Hong Kong’s minister of commerce and economic development said. “In light of the situation in Hong Kong, I think it’s the responsible way to put this back for a while, and then sort of relaunch it at a suitable juncture.”

The initial travel bubble agreement between the two cites was meant to allow travelers to move freely with no quarantine required upon arrival. However, they were still supposed to complete coronavirus tests before and after arriving at their destinations.

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