Some concerns as bubble start nears

Top News | BLOOMBERG 6 May 2021

Singapore says it is assessing any potential changes to a planned travel bubble with Hong Kong after a flare-up of Covid-19 infections triggered fresh restrictions in the city-state.

Singapore late Tuesday announced it would impose a three-week crackdown, including limiting social gatherings to no more than five people and tightening border curbs, to stem the spread of a new variant first identified in India.

The tighter rules come a little more than a week after a deal was announced to open an air-travel corridor with Hong Kong on May 26.

"We will monitor the situation and we will review and assess whether or not there will be any changes," said Lawrence Wong, the minister who cochairs the Singapore government's virus task force. Singapore and Hong Kong authorities remain in contact, he added.

The cluster in Singapore, which recorded its first Covid-19-related fatality in nearly two months over the weekend, underscores the fragility of travel agreements in the face of highly transmissible variants.

The bubble, which has already been delayed several times due to infection outbreaks, includes a clear threshold on the number of linked local cases before the corridor is suspended.

The bubble will be closed for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local cases is more than five in either Singapore or Hong Kong. Currently, the number in Singapore is 1.43, well below that threshold.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said the government is watching the outbreak in Singapore, though he noted the number of cases is "by and large" within the agreed range.

The five cases Singapore reported are tied to a cluster linked to the India variant at a large public hospital.

Mutations are outracing vaccination progress in many places across the world, threatening to extend the pandemic.

"They are more infectious, they are causing larger clusters than before," said Wong. "We have tried our best to ring-fence the cases through contact tracing, but we must assume that there are still hidden cases out there in the community."

From Saturday to May 30, group gatherings in Singapore must be cut from a maximum of eight people to five, the Ministry of Health said. At workplaces, no more than 50 percent of staff who are able to work from home can return to offices.

Traveler quarantine from Saturday will be boosted to 21 days from the current 14, except for a small group of lower-risk places including Australia, China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

If the first flights go ahead on May 26 as planned, visitors to Singapore will be touring an island where restrictions are slightly tighter than they have been for the past few months.

Barbecue pits, gyms and campsites are closed again and people cannot gather in groups bigger than five, although restaurants are open. Patrons must, however, finish drinking by around 10pm.

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