The Singapore and Hong Kong aviation bubble plans were originally scheduled to be launched on November 22 last year, so that passengers from the two places do not need to be isolated after arriving at their destinations. However, due to the worsening of the epidemic situation in Hong Kong at that time, the aviation bubble plan collapsed. With the epidemic in the two places under control, the Singapore and Hong Kong governments simultaneously announced the day before yesterday that the aviation bubble program will be restarted on May 26. However, whether the aviation bubble program can be launched smoothly still depends on the epidemic situation in two places in the next month.
Judging from the content of the agreement reached by the two governments, although everyone has a strong desire to open the border as soon as possible, both sides are walking on thin ice to guard against the import and spread of the virus. In fact, the arrangement for restarting the aviation bubble has added a number of more stringent public health conditions. Once the epidemic on either side rebounds, the aviation bubble plan is easier to stop and it is more difficult to recover.
Under the original aviation bubble plan, passengers must have not been to other countries or regions for 14 consecutive days before taking off. However, due to the spread of the new variant virus and the incubation period of some virus-infected people may exceed 14 days, the new agreement stipulates that these 14 days do not include the quarantine period during which passengers must undergo compulsory quarantine in Newport due to earlier travels.
On the other hand, in terms of the suspension or restart mechanism, the new requirement is that the unrelated community cases in the two places within two weeks after the air bubble call stopped must not exceed three in three consecutive days, and the seven days on the last day have an average of no cases. Only when there are no more than five cases in the associated community can the aviation bubble program be resumed.
The prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has hit the global economy severely, and the aviation and tourism industries have almost ceased operations. Despite the advent and vaccination of vaccines, strict quarantine and isolation requirements in many countries around the world have inhibited people’s willingness to fly and slowed the recovery of the aviation industry. Singapore and Hong Kong are both export-oriented economies, and are also aviation hubs and financial centers. Therefore, global restrictions on the flow of people have had a particularly serious impact on these two places.
Although the virus is still raging around the world, we cannot close our borders for a long time and wait to die. Our airlines and travel-related industries cannot burn money for a long time and wait for the epidemic to pass. However, under the volatile situation of the epidemic, rashly opening the border will lead to a counterattack against the epidemic.
The Aviation Bubble Project is trying to find a balance in a dilemma. However, the change of the epidemic is elusive, so the aviation bubble plan will be implemented in a stumbled situation. Last Monday, Australia and New Zealand launched the aviation bubble in a joyous voice, but five days later, after a confirmed case in Western Australia and the implementation of lockdown measures, New Zealand urgently stopped the aviation bubble plan with Western Australia.
There are still many unknown factors in the coronavirus epidemic, and the shortage of vaccines and uneven distribution have caused global epidemics one after another. In addition, the validity period of the vaccine and whether the vaccinated person will transmit the virus to others has not yet been determined. On the other hand, there are divergent opinions on the ability of vaccines to resist multiple variant viruses. Therefore, even though the Aviation Bubble has designed a multi-layer protection net, it is still necessary for us to remain vigilant to prevent cross-infection of viruses.
Whether the aviation bubble plan can strengthen people’s confidence in flying and traveling depends on the cooperation of all aspects of virus prevention measures. Passengers must truthfully declare their health records, checkpoints must be strictly controlled, and airlines must ensure that disinfection and safety measures in the aircraft are in place. Human negligence in any link may lead to the emergence of virus infection groups, which will cause the aviation bubble program to be stranded.
Second, the Air Bubble Agreement must be based on the risk assessment of the spread of the virus in the two places and the effectiveness of public health measures. In terms of opening borders, the scientific assessment of the epidemic must be the top priority. Although many countries or regions unilaterally risk opening their borders under economic pressure and expect other countries to respond accordingly, once the aviation bubble is politicized, the epidemic will get out of control.
The bilateral aviation bubble agreement is a stopgap measure under the raging epidemic, and it is not without risks. We hope that the epidemic will pass as soon as possible, so that the aviation bubble will lose its basis. However, judging from the development of the global epidemic, we may still need to coexist with the virus for some time.
During this period, bilateral or multilateral aviation bubble programs can allow us to open up borders to promote the exchange of people and economic development while strictly controlling the spread of the virus. But because the epidemic is elusive, we must step by step.