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Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble announcement delayed as Singapore quarantines hundreds of migrant workers

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 22/4/2021
a group of people walking in the rain: Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. The travel bubble’s delay comes as Singapore is expected to report a rise in local cases. Photo: Xiaomei Chen Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. The travel bubble’s delay comes as Singapore is expected to report a rise in local cases. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Hong Kong and Singapore have delayed a planned Thursday announcement of the launch of a long-awaited travel bubble to next week, according to two people familiar with the matter.

One of them said that as of Wednesday night, the understanding among parties involved in the planning of the announcement was that it would take place on Monday. Those involved in the planning were also told that the start date of the quarantine-free travel arrangement would be moved to May 26, from May 19. The person was told these dates may be further revised over the weekend.

The second source said there was no reason given for the delay in the announcement, but it was initiated by the Singapore side. Both asked not to be identified as they were not authorised to speak publicly on the matter.

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a group of people looking at an airport: A Singapore Airlines plane is seen from a viewing gallery of Changi Airport last year. Singapore has been a vocal proponent of the travel bubble. Photo: Reuters © Provided by South China Morning Post A Singapore Airlines plane is seen from a viewing gallery of Changi Airport last year. Singapore has been a vocal proponent of the travel bubble. Photo: Reuters

In response to media queries, a spokesperson for Singapore's Transport Ministry said both sides had not fixed a date to announce the resumption of the travel bubble "but will do so once we are ready, hopefully very soon".

Singapore has been a vocal proponent of the arrangement in a bid to boost the aviation and tourism industries that have taken a big hit from the Covid-19 pandemic. The travel bubble was supposed to start last November but was cancelled at the eleventh hour as Hong Kong faced a new wave of infections.

Since November, Singapore has only had a handful of locally-transmitted infections each day, typically ranging from no cases to about five, but has on average seen 10 to 40 daily imported cases, as foreigners with work passes and student passes return to the country, along with those on dependent passes.

Experts in Singapore wary of mutant strains amid Hong Kong travel bubble plans

On Thursday, the health ministry said that 17 migrant workers at a dormitory tested positive. This came after a 35-year-old Bangladeshi worker, who lives in the same dormitory, tested positive on Monday during routine testing, despite being fully vaccinated.

The worker had completed his second vaccination dose on April 13. His roommate tested positive, and the 17 others who showed a positive result had previously recovered from Covid-19. Authorities are investigating if these are actual re-infections.

"These cases were immediately isolated and conveyed to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases to investigate for possible reinfection," the manpower ministry said in a statement issued late on Wednesday.

a man standing in front of a window: Singapore's Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo tours a dormitory room for migrant workers who had Covid-19 in May last year. Photo: Reuters © Provided by South China Morning Post Singapore's Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo tours a dormitory room for migrant workers who had Covid-19 in May last year. Photo: Reuters

A note from the dormitory manager, seen by This Week In Asia, said the ministry would "decant all 1,146 residents" from one dormitory block and send them to a government quarantine facility for 14 days.

Singapore last reported more than 10 cases among dormitory residents in September, with barely any new infections over the last few months.

The bulk of its more than 60,000 Covid-19 cases since the pandemic started occurred in the dormitories that house a mix of South Asian and mainland Chinese migrant workers who are on work permit or S-passes, and hold lower-paid jobs in construction, shipyards and processing.

Hong Kong had requested for these individuals to not be eligible for the travel bubble arrangement, ahead of the initial launch last November.

The workers are still mostly separated from the rest of the population in Singapore, being mainly only allowed out of their residence for work and limited activities.

Hong Kong's travel bubble hopes ride on virus control, vaccines

The city state of 5.7 million has one of the fastest vaccination rates in Asia-Pacific, having administered 2.2 million doses, and life has largely returned to normal, though concerns of reinfection are growing as new virus variants emerge and global cases tick up.

Hong Kong has seen between one and 30 new Covid-19 cases per day in the past week and is expected to record more than 20 new cases on Thursday according to a source, with the majority likely to be imported cases. Experts are also increasingly concerned about the spread of more infectious coronavirus variants.

To date, about 10 per cent of the city's 7.5 million population has received at least their first vaccine dose. Roughly 399,000 people, or 5.3 per cent of the population, are fully vaccinated.

Earlier this week, 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.

Reporting by Reuters, Bloomberg

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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