HONG KONG/SINGAPORE -- Hong Kong and Singapore have reached a preliminary agreement to establish an "air travel bubble" that will exempt travelers between the two business hubs from current quarantine requirements.
While it remains uncertain when the arrangement will take effect, Hong Kong commerce secretary Edward Yau said Thursday that the Hong Kong government will hammer out details with Singapore "in the next few weeks." He added that both governments agreed travelers must present a mutually-recognized negative result for COVID-19 before boarding a flight.
People who travel between the two cities will be required to take dedicated flights under the air travel bubble scheme. Both governments said the arrangement could be adjusted or suspended "at any time" if the coronavirus situation worsens in either place.
Flights between the two business and aviation hubs take four hours. Hong Kong served more than 71 million passengers last year, and Singapore had 67 million. Singapore had 489,000 visitor arrivals from Hong Kong in 2019, while Hong Kong received 453,282 travelers from Singapore.
Shares in Hong Kong's flagship Cathay Pacific Airways closed 6.05% higher on Thursday, while Singapore Airlines was up 0.6% from Wednesday's close.
Singapore has already set up reciprocal bubbles for business travelers with China, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Brunei, and Indonesia. The city-state now accepts general travelers from four low-risk countries including Brunei, New Zealand, Vietnam, and Australia.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is currently in discussion with 11 nations to establish a similar air travel bubble, including Japan, the European Union, and Australia, according to Yau.
Singapore attributed the agreement to the low incidence of COVID-19 cases and robust measures to control the pandemic in the two cities. "This has given us the confidence to mutually and progressively open our borders to each other," Ong Ye Kung, Singapore's Minister for Transport, said in a statement.
Both Hong Kong and Singapore have largely stemmed the outbreak, for now, thanks to effective social distancing and tracking measures. Both cities reported new daily COVID-19 cases of below 10 in the last few days, with only 105 and 28 deaths, respectively, as of Thursday.
"It is significant that our two regional aviation hubs have decided to collaborate to establish an Air Travel Bubble," Ong said. "It is a safe, careful but significant step forward to revive air travel, and provide a model for future collaboration with other parts of the world."
Edward Yau, Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, said the agreement was "a milestone."
"Hong Kong and Singapore enjoy longtime close and cordial cooperation on many fronts. I have every confidence that the arrangement can come to fruition very soon to facilitate the resumption of air travel between our two economies," Yau said.