Following a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, Hong Kong’s long-awaited travel bubble with Singapore has burst—and so have all the balloons heralding the now-thwarted plans at the city’s airport.
Photos that circulated on social media Sunday showed the balloons, which made up a silver and gold garland at a departure gate at Hong Kong International Airport, reduced to a sad, deflated heap of balloon debris.
The sight is an apt visualization of the dramatic turn of events over the past few days. The bubble was meant to mark a significant milestone in Asia’s cautious return to travel, piloted by two cities that have achieved relative success in controlling their outbreaks.
Meant to begin Sunday, the plan was scrapped just a day before as Hong Kong reported a dramatic spike in cases. On Saturday, the city recorded 46 new infections, the highest in over three months. On Sunday, 68 more cases were reported.
Health experts say a fourth COVID-19 wave has arrived in Hong Kong, and warned about the possibility of tightening restrictions to combat the heightened transmission.
Authorities said earlier that the travel bubble would be suspended if either city sees the daily average number of untraceable cases in one week reach more than five.
Under the travel bubble arrangement, up to 200 travelers were meant to fly from Hong Kong to Singapore, and vice versa, on one flight a day, according to Hong Kong’s commerce minister Edward Yau. Travelers would need to test negative for the virus before the flight, and would be exempted from quarantine.
“Particularly in the light of Hong Kong’s situation, I think it is a responsible way for us to touch base again. At this particular moment, we have mutually agreed to put this scheme back by two weeks,” Yau said in a Saturday press conference announcing the postponement.
Hong Kong has recorded 165 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days.