Hong Kong is the 10th place that Singapore has made special travel arrangements with. - AFP

HONG KONG: Hong Kong and Singapore yesterday said they had agreed "in principle" to set up a bubble allowing residents to travel freely between the two financial hubs as long as they test negative for the coronavirus. The announcement is a rare moment of good news for a tourism industry battered by the pandemic and offers a glimpse into how places with less severe outbreaks might be able to safely restart some travel.

The two cities released joint statements announcing the deal which they said would be implemented within weeks. "This milestone arrangement will help revive cross-border air travel between the two aviation hubs, in a safe and progressive way," Hong Kong's government said.

"Both our cities have low incidence of COVID-19 cases and have put in place robust mechanisms to manage and control COVID-19," Singapore transport minister Ong Ye Kung said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. Shares in Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific which, like all airlines, has been hammered by the coronavirus closed more than six percent up on Thursday. Singapore Airlines was trading up a more muted 0.5 percent.

No quarantine on arrival
The joint statement said there would be no limit on what type of travel will be allowed between Hong Kong and Singapore meaning tourists will be as welcome as business travellers. Those travelling between the two hubs will need to have a negative coronavirus test result and travel on dedicated planes. They will not need to quarantine for a period of time on arrival.

No transit passengers will be allowed on board the travel bubble flights. "Both governments are committed to fleshing out the full details of the (travel bubble) in the coming weeks and look forward to the resumption of travel between both cities, with the necessary safeguards in place to ensure that public health concerns of both sides are addressed," the joint statement said.

Industry groups welcomed the announcement and said they hoped similar bubbles would be forged. "Replacing quarantine measures with COVID-19 testing will help in re-opening borders, restoring the connectivity that jobs and economic activity depends on, and gives passengers greater confidence to travel," Conrad Clifford, from the International Air Transport Association, said in a statement.

The travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong also got a cautious welcome from some public health experts-but they cautioned corridors only worked for those places that have got a handle on the disease. "Control and clear virus with strong public health measures, then set up travel bubbles with other places that have done the same," tweeted Devi Sridhar, chair of Edinburgh University's Global Public Health department.

"East Asia and the Pacific showing a way forward and clear strategy," she added.
Hong Kong's government has said it is seeking to form travel bubbles with 10 other destinations: Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand and Vietnam. - AFP