Singapore can forget about other air travel bubbles if it messes up its Covid-19 response, says tourism chief

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SINGAPORE – Air travel bubbles rely on both sides having “full confidence” in each other, and Singapore needs to be in the right position before loosening measures further, said the chief executive of the country’s tourism board.

“We fully support what (Education Minister Lawrence Wong) has said about the need for us, for Singapore to tick off the boxes on some of the pre-conditions before we can go into phase three,” Keith Tan of the Singapore Tourism Board said on Friday.

In April, Singapore went into a partial lockdown in what was referred to as a “circuit breaker.” Those restrictive measures, aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus, have been lifted by phases.

Singapore started phase two of its reopening in mid-June, when most businesses were allowed to reopen and small social gatherings were permitted.

Wong, who is part of the Singapore’s task force for Covid-19, on Tuesday said the city state could enter the third stage of its reopening before the end of the year, according to local media. However, that’s contingent on factors such as Singaporeans remaining compliant to safe distancing measures and an improvement in testing capabilities.

If we mess it up, then we can forget about other air travel bubbles, which is why we need to have those conditions met before we go into phase three.

Keith Tan

Singapore Tourism Board

Tan, the STB chief, spoke on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” and said that meeting those conditions will be important for reviving tourism in the country.

“This is crucial because … in order for these air travel bubbles to work, both sides – Singapore and some other city that we might be negotiating with – need to have full confidence in each other, full confidence in our health infection controls,” he said.

“If we mess it up, then we can forget about other air travel bubbles, which is why we need to have those conditions met before we go into phase three,” he added.

Travel bubble tickets snapped up

Singapore and Hong Kong this week announced that its quarantine-free leisure travel agreement will start on Nov. 22, with one flight carrying a maximum of 200 passengers into each city per day.

Travelers have to present a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours before departure and those arriving in Hong Kong have to take a second test.

Tan said he’s encouraged by the response in both cities. “You can see Singaporeans snapping up tickets to go to Hong Kong,” he said.

Online travel services platform Trip.com said Hong Kong to Singapore searches grew by 300% in the three hours after details were announced on Nov. 11, while Singapore to Hong Kong flight search volumes increased by 200%.

“It doesn’t quite surprise me because both Hong Kongers and Singaporeans have been quite cooped up in their own respective homes,” Tan said.

“The opportunity to travel, to visit friends and relatives in either city, is a very appealing one,” he added. “Ultimately, because there’s a high level of trust in the health controls in the situation on both sides … we feel safe traveling to either city as well.”

Singapore had 58,102 total confirmed coronavirus cases and 28 deaths as of Nov. 12. Hong Kong had a total of 5,431 confirmed cases and 108 deaths.