英文

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

香港與新加坡同屬高度開放小型經濟體,社會條件和發展水平相近,當下疫情與抗疫形勢亦較相似,今次協議於兩地都是首次,具重要意義,然而跨境旅遊是否復常在望,仍有很多變數。「旅遊氣泡」作為一個概念,理論上行得通,可是放眼過去數月各地試行經驗,幾乎無一成功。

根據協議,旅客必須符合多項條件,才可豁免抵埗後14天強制檢疫隔離,包括出發前72小時接受兩地互認的病毒檢測並呈陰性、14天內沒有到過其他國家及地區等,兩地政府將於未來數周敲定各項細節安排。港星兩地在多方面的水平都較為接近,檢測互認較易水到渠成,不過旅客出行前,仍要花一筆錢做病毒檢測,航空公司「專機接送」又要做足社交距離措施,載客量有限,機票很可能比疫前為貴。可以想像,港星旅遊氣泡即使成事,主要也是以商務客和有必要往來的乘客為主,對復蘇旅遊業幫助有限,何况現在港星達成的也不過是「原則性」協議,未有具體落實時間。

北半球踏入秋季,歐美疫情又見惡化,美國半數州份確診病例顯著反彈,上周歐洲錄得超過7萬宗新增病例,更是破紀錄數字,荷蘭、捷克要局部封城,法國多市也要宵禁抗疫。

旅遊氣泡概念今年初夏提出,成為不少國家及地區拯救旅遊業和航空業的希望,東歐波羅的海三國5月率先試行,澳紐亦提出要組建旅遊氣泡,歐盟更於今年7月大舉開放旅遊,然而這些嘗試全都以失敗收場。波羅的海三國旅遊氣泡試行不久,便因疫情反覆而叫停,至今仍無法恢復;澳紐氣泡則因為澳洲疫情持續,一直未能成事。

歐盟以「同等風險」為基礎開放旅遊,結果一敗塗地,多國疫情急轉直下,英國政府更因為倉卒下令恢復14天隔離要求,與法國發生摩擦,10多萬身在法國的英國旅客要急急趕在隔離令實施前歸國。當然,別人失敗不代表港星旅遊氣泡無可能成功,然而兩地政府摸着石頭過河,必須汲取他人失敗教訓,小心謹慎行事,市民和業界也要警惕疫情反彈風險,防疫意識不能鬆懈。

■Glossary

生字

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

上 / 下一篇新聞