Singapore – Hong Kong ATB: Vaccinations likely to be required

Discussions are back on for the Singapore - Hong Kong ATB, but vaccinations will almost certainly be required for travel now.

Ever since Hong Kong’s 7-day average of unlinked community cases fell below the ATB threshold of five in February, attention has turned once again to the prospect of resuming (or rather, starting, seeing as how it never even got off the ground) the ATB with Singapore. 

The Hong Kong ATB may be back on the cards, albeit with additional requirements

While I’m confident it’ll happen sometime this year, it may be a while before the majority of Singaporeans can take advantage of it. That’s because the Hong Kong authorities have indicated that vaccinations will be mandatory for Hong Kong residents traveling to Singapore, which almost certainly means a similar requirement the other way round. 

Hong Kong’s COVID-19 situation has improved

Before we even talk about leisure travel, the most important thing is that Hong Kong’s COVID-19 situation has improved significantly. The territory saw a fourth wave that coincided with the proposed start of the ATB with Singapore, and after a tough couple of months, things look brighter now. 

As of yesterday, the 7-day average of unlinked community cases was 0.57, well below the five required for the ATB to resume. In fact, the last time the 7-day average exceeded five was 5 March, so we’ve now gone 24 consecutive days below the threshold. 

It’s clear the Hong Kong authorities aren’t taking this for granted, however, hence the talk about vaccinations as a requirement for the ATB to resume. Edward Yau, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, said as much during a press conference yesterday:

“So, under the travel bubble arrangement, if Hong Kong people are to travel, and if we are to start any travel bubble arrangements with other places, then vaccination will be a requirement.

“This is for our own protection. I believe that will be the trend around the world in the long run.”

His comments were addressed to Hong Kong residents, but surely there can’t be an asymmetry in requirements. If Hong Kong residents must be vaccinated before coming to Singapore, the same requirement will no doubt apply in reverse. 

The original idea behind the ATB was that rigorous testing would replace the need for vaccinations and quarantine, but then again, vaccines weren’t even on the agenda back in October when the ATB was first mooted. In that sense, the Hong Kong ATB could be potentially no different from any of the other possible travel arrangements (Phuket, Bintan/Batam, Australia) that have been discussed recently, where vaccinations are the golden ticket.

How soon can the general population in Singapore be vaccinated?

Priority groups are receiving vaccinations in Singapore, but the general population rollout has yet to begin | Photo: Straits Times

So what does this mean for us in Singapore? Well, assuming you’re not one of the priority groups to get the vaccine, then the official timeline for general population vaccination is still “from April”, with the hope that everyone who wants a vaccine can get one by Q3. 

But there’s still a further lag time involved, thanks to the two-dose regime and the need to wait 14 days to be considered fully vaccinated:

  • Pfizer: Dose 1 21 days Dose 2 14 daysFully vaccinated
  • Moderna: Dose 1 28 days Dose 2 14 daysFully vaccinated

Realistically speaking, there’ll be more than a month’s wait after your first dose before you can start making travel plans. 

Then there’s the vexing question of children (don’t tell my wife I said that). Children under the age of 16 are currently not approved for vaccination in Singapore, pending the results of clinical trials on their immune response (which should arrive by early Summer). Should the ATB resume before then, it’s likely that children won’t be part of it. 

No timeline has been provided for when the ATB will resume, but Singapore is currently studying a proposal from the Hong Kong side and will respond “shortly”, according to Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung. 

Testing may still be required

If you think that vaccination will mean the end of swabbing, think again. 

During yesterday’s press conference, vaccinations were positioned as an extra requirement, on top of separate, designated bubble flights, and testing on both sides. This raises the possibility that a vaccinated ATB traveler may still have to do up to four tests, adding at least ~S$440 in costs per person. 

TestLocationPrice
#1Pre-departure in SingaporeS$150-200
#2Post-arrival in Hong KongHK$499 
#3Pre-departure in Hong Kong*HK$240-2,000
#4Post-arrival in SingaporeS$160
  S$437-S$786
*This test is not required if your return flight from Hong Kong is within 72 hours of your second test

While the price of COVID-19 PCR testing has fallen (from S$200 when the bubble was first announced to around S$150 now), the cumulative cost could still be prohibitive for families- but as I mentioned in the previous section, it’s a moot point if children can’t get vaccinated anyway. 

Presumably the airlines and hospitality industry will be lobbying to get testing requirements waived for vaccinated travelers, but the jury is still out on whether transmission by vaccinated individuals is possible. We’ll presumably know more about that in the weeks and months to come. 

Conclusion

The Singapore – Hong Kong ATB could well be resuming soon, but if vaccinations are indeed made mandatory on both sides, there may still be a wait ahead for most Singaporeans. I fully expect that travel will be dangled as a carrot to encourage vaccination take-up anyway (as well it should), so there’s no surprises here. 

There’s been some good news with Singapore’s vaccination program, thanks to supplies arriving ahead of schedule. Hopefully this trend continues, allowing general population vaccinations to begin soon. 

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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anon

I am eagerly waiting for the vaccination.. and its not for travel reasons

JW19

The country(territory, this might ruffle a few feathers) that has been significantly poorer in dealing with the outbreak is calling the shots. Singapore has been significantly superior to HK in dealing with covid and we should be writing the rules not them, can we stop this nonsense and just terminate the agreement with them, Taiwan might be a much better bet.

Last edited 2 years ago by JW19
What's good for the goose

May i remind you that HK’s covid cases stand at 11,454, compared to 60,321 for Singapore. How you arrived at your conclusion is baffling.

By the same logic, TW, which has been far superior in dealing with the pandemic, should be calling the shots and Singapore should be subservient to their whims and fancies.

Their current whim is not too have any travel bubble with Singapore, ostensibly because we did not deal with the pandemic as well as they have.

What's good for the goose

It is universally accepted that Hong Kong is part of China, except that it was supposedly guaranteed freedoms in the 1997 agreement which no other part of China enjoys.

What’s the point you were trying to make?

JW19

Do you need reminder that 54500+ are confined to dormitory, that leaves less than 6000 local plus imported cases so far with imported cases standing at over 3500 based on MOH’s count today. Tell me another country that has the ability to segregate cases so clearly. Should the global figures be believed then perhaps Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is significantly safer to HK. Lets approach them for travels instead.

asprino

Only in S’pore dormitory cases are listed separately. Internationally no one really thinks one can segregate local cases from dormitory cases. And yes – we are apporaching Vietnam as well.

Is good for the gander

A case is a case and a black eye is a black eye. Let’s not put asterisks here and there to qualify why 54k+ dormitory cases aren’t as important than community cases. They are all counted equally and without qualifications. With so many dorm cases, the virus could had plenty of opportunities to spread to the community. Countries who did well were those that prevented the spread; not those who had to spend $94b in reversing the damage done with their own goals. The proof is in the pudding. Countries that have done better than us- Brunei, Australia, NZ, TW… Read more »

Last edited 2 years ago by Is good for the gander
Tom

I presume that your trolling but of course dormitory cases (very easy to isolate, mostly amongst young slim men, largely asymptomatic) are better than community cases and cannot be seen as equivalent. Hence why HK with 1/5th total cases has 10x the total deaths.

FYI you’re using the phrases “good for the goose” and “proof is in the pudding” incorrectly.

Sam

Do not forget we have deaths “unrelated to COVID”!

FYI – “you are trolling”, not “your trolling”

Tom

Assuming HK’s figures are 100% accurate and they have not done exactly the same thing are you suggesting for a second this would account for a near 40-50 times greater recorded death rate per capita in HK?

re: your/you’re – touché – mea culpa

BSLTW

just cancelled my Easter ticket home to Sg and waiting for BioNtech vaccination to resume in HK……Sigh…..

Chris

Why do we need post arrival? Singapore doesn’t require post arrival test? I thought it was 2 for Hong Kong, 1 for Singapore?

seat 1A

Cause you’re gonna catch covid on the plane when you go to the toilet

mOjO jOjO

No longer interested in going to HK. The place has gone to the dogs, if you know what I mean.

Ben

You mean to the bear – also known as Pooh.

John

The biggest question that has be answered is the list of approved vaccine. Currently, the Sinovac is not on the Singapore’s approved list of vaccine. Are we going to stop those people who take that vaccine from coming into Singapore? Same for Moderna in which is approved in Singapore but not for Hong Kong.

This might also affected our other potential air travel bubbles arrangement with other countries.
China and EU have already started playing this game for only allowing people that take their approved vaccine from coming and moving around.

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