Testing time for travel bubble plan

Editorial | Mary Ma 20 Oct 2020

Strictly speaking, Hong Kong's agreement with Singapore to spare residents of both places the ordeal of quarantine isn't turning out to be what a travel bubble is supposed to be.

For the agreement, hailed by Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah, still demands travelers from both places to test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours prior to departure.

Upon landing in Singapore, travelers from the SAR may also be asked to submit to a further test before they are admitted to the Lion City, subject to discretion.

The so-called "travel bubble" is restrictive. At most, it is an agreement to make travel a bit easier between the two places and is far from being a bubble. Nonetheless, it is a welcome start to what may eventually become a true bubble.

Hopefully, Yau can continue to make progress in his talks with the other 10 destinations that he had mentioned briefly.

The Hong Kong-Singapore "bubble" may not be perfect, but it can still be a milestone in the sense that travelers meeting the stringent test requirement are spared the 14-day quarantine, and that is pivotal to the scheme.

Unfortunately, the need for one to be cleared by a Covid test before one can be allowed aboard one of the government-designated flights for Singapore and another test before one can return is bound to increase travel costs. Meanwhile, will travelers from the SAR be asked to pay for the probable additional test upon landing in Singapore?

I hope not. Otherwise, test expenses alone would puncture any optimism this talk of a travel bubble has inflated.

Travel-sector critics such as tourism functional constituency lawmaker Yiu Si-wing hit quite near to the mark in pointing out that the new scheme, expected to roll out in time for Christmas, will be more attractive to those who have to visit Singapore for business or family reasons.

Unless the cost of doing Covid tests is lowered, it can be as costly as a return ticket or a low-cost organized tour.

The cost has to be reduced if the scheme is meant to render meaningful support to the ailing travel industry.

Will Yau seriously consider this?

Hongkongers are known for their love of traveling. Destinations they have been visiting the most in Asia include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and probably Malaysia. As such, it makes sense that Yau is trying to cut similar "bubble" deals with them - with Taiwan being the glaring omission.

If Taiwan was still high on the list months ago, the omission is regrettable - though the reason for its absence is so obvious.

It's either because Taipei has refused to talk or Yau has found it politically incorrect to initiate talks at this time of political sensitivity.

When even a murder suspect wanted by Taiwan police has to remain in Hong Kong not knowing when he may ever be allowed to fly over thereto turn himself in, it is more likely than not that other more unremarkable travelers will have to wait until the pandemic is over and our relationship with Taiwan gets back to a more even keel.

On a more positive note, Hongkongers may be able to travel north free of quarantine restrictions before long - in light of all the positive talks on a health code system by officials.

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