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'Travel Bubble' Between Hong Kong And Singapore Is Delayed Amid COVID-19 Spike

An arrangement to allow air travelers between Hong Kong and Singapore to forgo quarantine has been delayed after Hong Kong reported a spike in coronavirus cases.

Hong Kong announced Saturday a delay of at least two weeks to the air travel bubble as the city confirmed 43 new cases — including 13 cases that officials have not been able to trace.

The bubble, which was originally slated to start Sunday, would allow a limited number of air travelers to avoid quarantine. To qualify, passengers would have to pass two coronavirus tests — both before departure and upon arrival — and fly on one of a select number of flights.

Both citiescurrentlyrequire most travelers to undergo a 14-day quarantine period.

Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau, saidthe postponement was the "responsible way" forward, the Associated Press reported.

"For any scheme to be successful, they must fulfill the condition of securing public health, and also make sure that both sides would be comfortable and feel safe about the scheme," Yau said.

Yau said enacting the air travel bubble would be revisited early next month, Reuters reported.

Singapore 's transport minister, Ong Ye Kung, said in a Facebook postthat the postponement is a "sober reminder that the COVID-19 virus is still with us."

"I can fully understand the disappointment and frustration of travellers who have planned their trips. But we think it is better to defer from a public health standpoint," he wrote.

The South China Morning Post reported that the plan would have allowed up to 200 people to fly each day without a quarantine period.

As part of the arrangement, both Hong Kong and Singapore had agreed to suspend the program for two weeks if the number of local untraceable cases exceeded five on a rolling seven-day average. As of Saturday, Hong Kong was at nearly four, according to the AP.

Hong Kong, alongside Singapore, was lauded by public health officialsfor its response early into the pandemic. In recent days, however, the city has seen a spike in new infections.

At least one health official has warned of an upcoming "fourth wave" of coronavirus cases, Bloomberg News reports, adding that more social restrictions were planned to help contain outbreaks.

In total, Hong Kong has confirmed more than 5,500 cases of the coronavirus according to Johns Hopkins University. Singapore has confirmed more than 58,100 cases.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.