Hong Kong lawmakers call for travel bubble with S'pore to be scrapped over Covid-19 strategy shift

Pro-Beijing lawmakers said that Hong Kong's priority should be to open with China.

Matthias Ang | July 10, 2021, 09:33 PM

A number of lawmakers in Hong Kong have called for travel bubble plans with Singapore to be scrapped over a shift in how the country plans to tackle Covid-19, Hong Kong media RTHK reported.

Singapore's Multi-Ministry Taskforce has stated that Covid-19 will likely be endemic, which means people can live with the disease.

This echoed comments by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on May 31, in a televised address where he said that he did not expect Covid-19 to disappear, but to become endemic, and "remain with humankind".

This means that the virus will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population for years to come.

Hong Kong pro-Beijing lawmakers: Priority is to open with China

During a Legislative Council meeting on July 9, a number of Hong Kong lawmakers spoke up to say that the city must stick to its goal of zero local Covid-19 transmission, so as to resume travel with mainland China as soon as possible.

A lawmaker and leader of a pro-Beijing party called Roundtable, Michael Tien, added that Hong Kong should not offer quarantine-free travel to people from places that do not share such a goal.

He said, "The mainland will not tolerate any loopholes at our airport. If Singapore really changes its anti-pandemic target, the government can stop talking to the country about setting up a travel bubble."

He was echoed by Alice Mak, a lawmaker from the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, who said, "For places that don't aim to achieve zero infection but hope to live with the virus, we should not have a travel bubble with them."

In response, Hong Kong's Health Secretary, Sophia Chen, said that the Hong Kong authorities would continue to communicate with Singapore and that the city still aimed to have no Covid-19 infections.

A more restrained tone was struck by Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who said that more needed to be understood about Singapore's new strategy and how it would impact arrangements, Bloomberg reported.

She also noted that Singapore had a "very high vaccination rate" and said that vaccination as a condition for participating in the air travel bubble should be examined, on top of what has been previously agreed upon.

Ong Ye Kung: Talks still in progress

Separately, Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that both Singapore and Hong Kong were still trying to revive an agreement for quarantine-free travel between the two places, in an interview on Jul. 9.

With both cities seeing either very low Covid-19 case counts or no cases at all, they are well-placed to re-open their borders, he added.

Ong added:

“That gives us common ground to talk again about restarting the air travel bubble. I try to not call it bubble as it connotes something very fragile and can easily burst — I try to describe it as air travel corridor now, but the idea is the same.”

The travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore was initially slated for launch in November 2020, but was delayed when Hong Kong first recorded a spike in cases.

It was then delayed again in May this year, when Singapore recorded its own surge in cases.

Top image via Changi Airport Facebook