Will the Asia air-travel bubble burst?

Coronavirus Daily
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Will the Asia air-travel bubble burst?

Excitement is running high in two of Asia's premier financial hubs this week following the release of details about an air-travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore. The arrangement, which will replace quarantine with Covid-19 testing, is open to almost everyone, for any type of travel, be it business, leisure or visiting family and friends.

It's the first of its kind in the pandemic, and a potential global template for restarting international travel. 

The ability to board a plane for a vacation is enticing, even if the two participating cities aren't particularly far apart and are similar in their food-and-shopping offerings. Ticket prices for the planned daily bubble flights are surging and a joint tourism campaign has been launched, complete with custom-designed masks, special in-flight menus and discounts to local attractions.

A Cathay Pacific airplane leaves Hong Kong. Cathay is one of the airlines operating bubble flights.

Photographer: Roy Liu/Bloomberg

The bubble is already encouraging other travel initiatives in the region, though the rampant coronavirus outbreaks in places like the Philippines and Indonesia will likely keep some of Asia's best beaches out of reach for a long time. And the paperwork and multiple virus tests required for the journey will also deter some travelers.

Then there's the prospect that the bubble might pop. The travel arrangement will be suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of daily cases of unknown origins in either city rises above five. On Thursday, Hong Kong said six of seven local cases were untraceable.

Given the volatility of Covid-19 outbreaks, the bubble could be ephemeral. It'll be up to the populations of Hong Kong and Singapore—which have both shown enormous resilience and discipline through a year of mask-wearing, social distancing and near-lockdowns—to keep cases low, and to make it last.—Katrina Nicholas

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Photographer: Patricia Suzara

Photographer: Patricia Suzara

 

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