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Singapore, Hong Kong Postpone Travel Bubble Until 2021
Singapore and Hong Kong have again postponed the launch of the much-awaited travel bubble that would connect the two Asian hubs without the need for a quarantine period. The quarantine-free travel corridor launch was delayed two days before it was due to begin as Hong Kong saw a new hike in the number of COVID-19 cases begin on Nov. 21.
Flyers can continue to travel between Singapore and Hong Kong onboard standard flights and under regular protocols for travel. For example, Singaporean passengers returning home will be required to quarantine for seven days upon their arrival. Hong Kong on the other hand requires a PCR test on arrival for passengers returning home and then requires them to isolate at government-provided hotels until the test result comes back.
The much-awaited travel bubble was a ray of hope for the travel and hospitality industry, and if successful could have been a source for replication between other closely-tied locations around the globe. Officials had hoped it would increase leisure and business travel between two interdependent Asian hubs in a safe way. However, its postponement once again sheds light on the complexity of eliminating the risk of contracting the virus during travel and more importantly on opening cities and countries, without jeopardizing the task of keeping case numbers low.
However, domestic markets around the world have started recovering over the past few months. China has seen domestic travel levels up to 85% of what they were in pre-pandemic times. In India, domestic flight capacity is at 50% of 2019 levels, while international flights remain suspended. In South America, airlines in Chile are operating at around 60% of their pre-pandemic passenger levels, while in Brazil, GOL Airlines and Azul Brazilian Airlines are both at 70% of 2019 travel levels.
Regarding international travel, there is also hope at the end of the tunnel. Today, the UK has become the first country to approve Pfizer and Biontech’s vaccine for COVID-19, with 40 million doses ordered to date. While distributing and applying vaccines around the world in record time will be a paramount logistical challenge; it is expected to be the enabler for travel to be able to be completely reinstated again from a health and safety standpoint.
While it may be a bit too soon to tell how a vaccine will truly affect the dynamics of air travel, Qantas has already announced that it would require passengers’ proof of vaccination in order to be able to fly. Perhaps countries could go the same way, requiring international passengers to show proof of immunity in order to be eligible for entry. Only time will tell, but that moment is only a short time away.
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