Editorial : Travel bubbles are easy to burst

【明報專訊】Hong Kong and Singapore are both small, highly open economies with similar social conditions and levels of development, and they are currently facing relatively similar situations concerning the pandemic and the fight against it. The agreement was the first for both regions and carries important significance. However, there remain many uncertainties over whether cross-border travel can return to normal. The concept of a "travel bubble" is theoretically feasible, but if we look at the experience of different parts of the world in attempting it over the past few months, we can see that almost none of the experiments has been successful.

According to the agreement, travellers must meet a number of criteria before they can be exempted from the 14-day compulsory quarantine upon arrival, including having a negative virus test recognised by both sides 72 hours before departure, not having visited other countries and regions within 14 days, etc. The governments of the two places will finalise the detailed arrangements over the next few weeks. As the standards of Hong Kong and Singapore are similar in many aspects, mutual recognition of testing can be achieved relatively easily. However, travellers still need to spend a certain amount of money on virus testing before they travel, and airlines have to take adequate social distancing measures for their "exclusive" flights. As the carrying capacity will be limited, airfares could be higher than before. It can be imagined that even if the Hong Kong and Singapore travel bubble agreement is implemented, it will mainly be for business travellers and passengers who have urgent need to travel, which will be of limited help to the recovery of the tourism industry, not to mention the fact that the agreement reached by Hong Kong and Singapore is only an agreement "in principle" without a specific timetable for implementation.

As autumn approaches in the northern hemisphere and the pandemic worsens in Europe and the United States, half of the states in America have seen a significant rebound in confirmed cases, while Europe recorded more than 70,000 new cases last week, a record number. The Netherlands and the Czech Republic are in partial lockdown, and many French cities are under curfew to fight the pandemic.

The travel bubble concept was proposed earlier this summer and has become the hope of many countries and regions to save their tourism and aviation industries. The three Baltic countries in Eastern Europe took the lead in May, while Australia and New Zealand also proposed to set up a travel bubble. The European Union even opened up tourism in July this year. However, these attempts all ended in failure. Shortly after the trial run, the Baltic travel bubble plan was stopped due to repeated outbreaks of the pandemic, and so far it has not been resumed. The Australia and New Zealand travel bubble plan has never been implemented because of the ongoing pandemic in Australia.

The EU opened up tourism on the basis of "similar coronavirus risk profiles", but it was a total failure with pandemic outbreaks in many countries going downhill. The British government rushed to order the reinstatement of the 14-day quarantine requirement, causing conflict with France. As a result, more than 100,000 British travellers in France had to rush home before the quarantine order came into effect. Of course, the failure of others does not mean that the Hong Kong and Singapore travel bubble cannot succeed. However, when the governments of the two places are experimenting with the plan, they must learn from the failures of others and proceed with caution. The public and different sectors should also be alert to the risk of a recurrence of the pandemic and their vigilance cannot be relaxed.

明報社評2020.10.16:旅遊氣泡易戳破 港星試行須謹慎








exclusive : only to be used by one particular person or group; only given to one particular person or group

experiment : to try or test new ideas, methods, etc. to find out what effect they have

vigilance : careful attention that you give to what is happening, so that you will notice any danger or illegal activity

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