(Bloomberg) -- As Singapore’s government assesses any potential change to a planned travel bubble with Hong Kong following a spike in local virus cases, families on both sides of the South China Sea are waiting and watching with bated breath -- again.
The quarantine-free arrangement was originally meant to start last November but was postponed after an outbreak in Hong Kong. Five months later, it was resurrected with the first flights scheduled for May 26. After many months, relatives and friends are looking forward to long-awaited reunions, but such hopes could once more be dashed.
Selena Wu is one of those people on tenterhooks. The 40-year-old, from Singapore originally, lives in Hong Kong and has seats on a June 1 bubble flight back to the city-state with her husband and three children. She plans to stay for six weeks, spending time with family.
“It will the first visit since February last year,” said Wu, who along with her husband is fully vaccinated. Her parents have made plans to take the kids to Singapore’s famous night safari, but now Wu worries if they’ll be able to fly at all. “It’s so sad. Every night, we’re praying that the travel bubble will still persist.”
The corridor linking two of Asia’s most important cities reflects the fragility of reopening efforts given the spread of new variants and vaccination in the region that lags the U.S and Europe. Both Singapore and Hong Kong have suppressed local transmission to very low levels and face pressure to maintain that success amid attempts to revive their travel-reliant economies.
Visitors from Hong Kong, if they do come, will experience a Singapore that’s recently tightened restrictions once again. A growing cluster linked to a large public hospital has triggered a three-week crackdown, including limiting social gatherings to no more than five people and restraining border movements to stem the spread of the new variant first identified in India.
While barbecue pits, gyms and campsites are closed, restaurants are open and in most cases, busy. Patrons must however finish drinking by around 10pm. Operating capacity for attractions like museums and public libraries has been scaled back to 50%, tour groups capped at 20 people, and the use of Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which must be scanned to enter everything from supermarkets, shops, malls and eateries, will be mandatory from May 17.
Read more: The Hong Kong-Singapore Travel Bubble Has Burst: Daniel Moss
Singapore is working hard to contain the latest outbreak lest it threaten the World Economic Forum, due to take place in the nation in August, and the Shangri-La Dialogue, which should start June 4. Government agencies have stepped up enforcement, penalizing businesses and individuals for breaching safety measures, and an open house for the public to visit the president’s official residence next week has been canceled.
A spokeswoman for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which is organizing the Shangri-La event, said the body is “monitoring developments in Singapore, as well as the global Covid-19 situation. We continue to work in close partnership with the government of Singapore to ensure the highest levels of safety for participants.”
According to the terms of the agreement, the travel bubble will be closed for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local cases is more than five in either city. Currently, the number in Singapore is 1.43, well below that threshold.
Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said late Tuesday the government is watching the outbreak in Singapore, though he said the number of cases is “by and large” within the agreed range.
Shares in Singapore Airlines Ltd. dropped 3.2% Wednesday, in line for their biggest loss this year, while Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. fell as much as 1.3%.
Wu, whose parents were supposed to come to Hong Kong in November before the bubble was called off initially, is hoping this will be second time lucky.
“If everyone cooperates and they’re aggressive with their quarantining and contract tracing, I think it’s possible to contain an outbreak within a few weeks because we’ve seen that in Hong Kong,” she said. “Hopefully it will be contained.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.