After numerous delays and false starts, the Singapore – Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble is set to take off on 26 May 2021. Here’s what you need to know.
After the ill-fated launch of the Singapore – Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (ATB) in November 2020 (which was scrubbed just hours before it was due to begin), travel-starved Singaporeans have been eagerly awaiting news of a revised date.
And now we have it: Singapore and Hong Kong have officially announced the relaunch of the ATB, with the first flights departing on 26 May 2021. Eligible travelers from Singapore and Hong Kong will be able to travel between the two cities without quarantine, or a controlled itinerary.
Who is eligible for ATB travel?
To be eligible for ATB travel between Singapore and Hong Kong, travelers must:
- Have remained in Singapore or Hong Kong for the past 14 consecutive days prior to travel*
- Present a negative COVID-19 PCR test with specimen submitted within 72 hours of departure
- Travel on a designated ATB flight
- Be fully-vaccinated against COVID-19 (For Hong Kong residents only)
*The 14-day travel history should not include any time spent in quarantine or SHN in Singapore or Hong Kong due to previous travel
Those who hold work permits or S-Passes issued by the Singapore MOM working in the construction, marine shipyard or process sectors are excluded from traveling on the ATB.
What flights can I travel on?
To enjoy quarantine-free travel, passengers must book a designed ATB flight. Should you travel by any other flight, you will be subject to the usual quarantine procedures upon arrival.
There will initially be one flight per day in each direction, operated by Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific:
|Singapore Airlines||Cathay Pacific|
|To Hong Kong||SQ 882|
From 9 and 10 June onwards, the Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific flights respectively change to a daily schedule (i.e Singapore Airlines will fly to and from Hong Kong on the same day, as opposed to alternating days). This is a tentative plan, and subject to change depending on how the COVID-19 situation evolves in both cities.
Passengers can view the proposed schedules here:
As a reminder, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are currently offering unlimited free changes for tickets issued by 30 June 2021.
Can I redeem my miles?
Those of you holding on to a big pile of unused miles will be pleased to know that it’s possible to redeem them for ATB flights, subject to availability.
There is currently a limited amount of award space for ATB flights on both Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines throughout June, just in time for the school holidays. Award costs are as follows:
(Saver | Advantage)
|Economy Class||15,000 | 30,000||10,000|
|Premium Economy Class||24,500 | N/A||N/A|
|Business Class||30,500 | 50,000||25,000|
Will I need to be vaccinated?
While Hong Kong residents departing Hong Kong must be fully-vaccinated for COVID-19 before they can travel on ATB flights, one big surprise is that the same does not apply to Singapore residents.
This is good news for Singaporeans, seeing as how those under the age of 45 will only have access to the vaccine from June, and the 35 to 42 day time lag between the first jab and full effectiveness would have ruled out ATB travel until July at least.
What is the testing regime and how much will testing cost?
Even though vaccinations are not required for Singaporeans, all ATB travelers will still be required to undergo up to four COVID-19 PCR tests:
- Test 1: Pre-departure in Singapore (S$135-200)
- Test 2: Post-arrival in Hong Kong (HK$499)
- Test 3: Pre-departure in Hong Kong (HK$240-2,000)*
- Test 4: Post-arrival in Singapore (S$160)
*Test not required if your return flight from Hong Kong is within 72 hours of your second test
In total, travelers should expect to pay upwards of S$420 for testing per person. This has come down since the time the ATB was first announced, but is still a hefty sum to pay for a family.
Will children need to be tested?
The authorities have announced that children aged 6 or under will be exempt from some, but not all tests.
According to the CAAS, children aged 6 or under will not be required to take:
- A pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test before departing Hong Kong for Singapore
- An on-arrival test upon arrival at Changi Airport
Is there quarantine upon return to Singapore?
There is no need for returning Singapore residents to serve a 14-day SHN. However, all travellers will be required to submit to a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival at Changi.
After taking the test, they must take private transportation, taxi or private hire car to their declared place of accommodation, and remain isolated until test results are confirmed negative.
Will my insurance cover the trip?
Travelers who contract COVID-19 will need to bear the full cost of any medical treatment, subject to prevailing medical and healthcare policies.
If you test positive for COVID-19 after returning to Singapore, your regular medical insurance will provide coverage. Ever since 7 August 2020, Singapore residents who travel abroad under permitted travel arrangements have been able to tap on regular healthcare financing arrangements for their inpatient medical bills, should they require hospital admission for COVID-19 upon return. This includes government subsidies and MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plans.
If you test positive for COVID-19 while in Hong Kong and are admitted to hospital overseas, your travel insurance may provide coverage.
Singapore Airlines passengers can purchase the airline’s travel insurance policy (underwritten by AIG) which will cover medical expenses up to S$350,000. Cathay Pacific passengers already receive free COVID-19 coverage with their air ticket, which covers medical expenses of up to US$200,000.
Alternatively, certain third party insurance plans will also cover COVID-19 related treatment:
Do read the policy wording carefully for coverage and exclusions.
What will cause a suspension of the ATB?
The ATB will be suspended for at least 14 days if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases (excluding dormitory resident cases in Singapore) is more than five in either Singapore or Hong Kong.
The suspension will take effect after two days (including the day on which the criteria was met) for a two-week period. This is presumably to give travelers stuck on either side of the bubble a chance to return.
The ATB can resume on the next day when the following two criteria have been met:
- the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong and Singapore does not exceed five on the last day of the 14-day suspension period or any subsequent day;
- after criterion (i) is met, subsequently there are three consecutive days where the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases does not exceed three in Hong Kong and Singapore, and the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases on the last day of the three consecutive days does not exceed five in both places.
There’s still some time to go till 26 May, so fingers crossed the COVID-19 situation remains under control on both sides of the bubble. This comes just in time for the June school holidays, and although the mandatory testing will add a significant financial burden on families, it’s simply part and parcel of travel right now.
If you’re planning to travel, do take common sense precautions and make sure your travel insurance covers COVID-19 related treatment.
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By Aaron Wong
Aaron started The MileLion to help people travel better for less and impress “chiobu”. He was 50% successful. This is his story.