Confirmed: Singapore-Hong Kong ATB delayed again

The Singapore- Hong Kong ATB will be further postponed, with a new launch date to be announced on or before 13 June.

The Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (ATB) was always on shaky ground once community cases started rising in Singapore, and today comes official confirmation that the bubble will be postponed once again.

A revised commencement date will be announced on or before 13 June 2021. 

Both sides remain strongly committed to launching the ATB safely. However, in light of the recent increase in unlinked community cases, Singapore is unable to meet the criteria to start the Singapore-Hong Kong ATB. Both sides therefore agreed to defer the launch of the ATB to protect the health of travellers and the public in these two places.

Singapore and Hong Kong will closely monitor the public health situation in both places and review the new launch date of the ATB flights towards the end of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) in Singapore.

Ministry of Transport

This news shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as just last week the Hong Kong authorities indicated there was a “high chance” the ATB would not be proceeding as usual, based on current trends. 

The ATB between Singapore and Hong Kong was first proposed back in October 2020, meaning residents have now been waiting seven months for quarantine-free travel to commence. 

Why postpone the bubble?

Quarantine-free travel to Hong Kong remains elusive for now

As you’re no doubt aware, Singapore is in the midst of a spike in community cases, with 15 active clusters and unlinked cases rising by the day. The country is now under a set of tightened measures dubbed Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), which run until 13 June 2021 at least. 

Summary of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) Impact
✈️ Air Travel
  • 21-day SHN for arrivals from all countries except Australia, Brunei, China, New Zealand
  • Hong Kong ATB suspended
🏨 Staycations
  • Maximum two people per room (unless proof of common residence can be furnished)
  • All dining in-room
  • Gym closed
  • Spas will not offer any mask-less treatments
  • All other facilities operating with tightened capacity restrictions
🚢 Cruises 
  • Capacity capped at 25%
  • Maximum two people per cabin (unless proof of common residence can be furnished- may not be possible for Royal Caribbean)
  • All dining in-cabin
  • Show attendance capped at 50 people
  • Spa will not offer any mask-less treatments
  • Gym closed
  • Reduced capacity/suspension of certain mask-less activities

Yesterday’s total of 17 unlinked community cases increased the seven-day moving average to 4.57, and given today’s preliminary figure of 11 unlinked cases, the threshold of 5 would be breached. 

Refunds for ATB ticket holders

Passengers holding tickets for ATB flights with Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific will be able to get a full refund, without penalty fees. 

Refund Request

Singapore Airlines passengers who booked directly with Singapore Airlines (either using miles or paying cash) should visit this page to submit their refund request. Refunds will be processed within six weeks, back to the original mode of payment. 

If you booked via a travel agency, you’ll need to contact them directly to get a refund processed. 

Refund Request

Cathay Pacific passengers who booked directly with Cathay Pacific can login to the Manage Booking section of the website and request a refund. Those who used miles to redeem their ticket will need to contact Asia Miles through their online form to get a refund. Refunds will be processed within seven working days for payments made through credit card and PayPal; or 20 days for payments made with cash or bank transfer. 

If you booked via a travel agency, you’ll need to contact them directly to get a refund processed. 

Refunds for test on arrival

No one should have yet incurred the charges for a pre-departure test, given that it needs to be taken within 24-72 hours before departure. 

However, if you’ve jumped the gun and pre-booked your post-arrival COVID-19 test in Hong Kong, it’s possible to get a refund by emailing  [email protected]

My take on the situation

Well, we’ve been here before haven’t we? While the second postponement of the ATB is no doubt disappointing, this start/stop pattern is going to be the new normal until enough people are vaccinated.

There’s little point in starting the ATB as things stand. Hong Kong travelers will find their range of activities in Singapore severely restricted, and Hong Kong residents may not be thrilled by the idea of an influx of Singapore travelers, some of whom may be unvaccinated. 

The key question for me right now is what form the ATB will take when the topic is broached again. Will it follow the same rules as this time round, or will there be an added requirement for all Singapore residents to be vaccinated too? 

The vaccination rollout for the general population is only set to start from June, and the 35-42 day time lag between the first jab and full effectiveness would rule out ATB travel for at least a month. 

Dose 1Dose 1
▼ +21 days+28 days
Dose 2Dose 2
+14 days+14 days
Fully VaccinatedFully Vaccinated
Total time ≥ 35 daysTotal time ≥ 42 days

That has the potential to become even longer, should the Singapore government decide to postpone the administration of the second dose so that more people can receive a first one. In that case, it could be up to eight weeks between doses, and since “fully vaccinated” status is only achieved two weeks after the second dose, the lead time could be up to two and a half months. 

Singapore may further extend the gap between the first and second vaccine jabs

That means quarantine-free travel for Singaporeans may be off the cards for some time yet. 

Conclusion

One day…

I don’t think anyone can say they didn’t see the ATB postponement coming, and at least this time the plug was pulled well before the first flights were due to depart. 

All we can do now is hope that the COVID-19 situation comes under control by the time mid-June rolls around, and then try again. But maybe this time, let’s only announce the plans 24 hours before the flights take off. 

It might work. 

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

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