In the late afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 21, Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung announced that the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble (ATB) would be deferred by two weeks.
This announcement came less than six hours after the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) stated that the ATB would proceed as planned on Nov. 22, but with an additional precautionary safeguard.
The deferral comes amidst a surge in Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong in the past week, as it faces what may be its "fourth wave".
43 new cases in Hong Kong on Nov. 21
The Hong Kong health authorities announced 43 new confirmed Covid-19 cases on Saturday (Nov. 21), reported the South China Morning Post (SCMP). Of these, 13 are untraceable.
In addition, authorities are investigating more than 60 preliminary infections.
The previous day, Hong Kong recorded 26 new Covid-19 cases, with nine unlinked, and 40 preliminary positive ones.
The agreement between Singapore and Hong Kong authorities had been that the ATB would be suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked Covid-19 cases is more than five in either Singapore or Hong Kong.
The newly-announced unlinked cases on Saturday brought Hong Kong's average to 3.86, up from 2.14.
The epidemic situation in Hong Kong has "deteriorated rapidly", said a government spokesperson, with the increasing trend of unlinked local cases showing that "there is an invisible and continuous transmission chain in the community."
The situation is expected to "still remain severe" in the near future.
Thus, the deferral of the inaugural flights for the ATB is a "suitable and responsible" arrangement.
According to SCMP, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said that the decisions to suspend the ATB was mutually agreed upon by both governments.
"I can fully understand the disappointment and frustration": Ong Ye Kung
In a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, Ong said that the decision was made after some discussion with Yau earlier in the afternoon.
He said that the government will review the new launch date and provide a later update.
Ong stated that he "fully understand[s] the disappointment and frustration" of those who have planned their trips.
The airlines will be contacting the travellers individually to inform them of the change.
"This is a sober reminder that the Covid-19 virus is still with us, and even as we fight to regain our normal lives, the journey will be full of ups and downs.
But we will press on and look forward to when we can safely launch the ATB."
Hong Kong authorities tightening measures
As the situation in Hong Kong gets progressively worse, authorities are tightening social distancing measures.
Of the 12 cases with links to other local cases announced on Friday, nine were linked to a cluster at Starlight Dance Club, while at least seven people among the preliminary positive cases had also been to the club.
On Saturday (Nov. 21), the Hong Kong government announced a dancing ban, to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Live performance and dancing in catering premises (including bars or pubs), clubs, or nightclubs will be banned, and party rooms must be closed from Nov. 22 to 26.
Business owners found breaching the rules can face a fine of up to HK$50,000 (S$8,666) and jailed for six months.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee also announced plans to tighten other rules, such as more stringent criteria for suspending flights carrying in infected passengers, reported SCMP.
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Top photos via Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash.