Across Asia-Pacific, plans to restart travel faces yet another roadblock, as several major countries battle a deadlier wave of the coronavirus outbreak.
The twice-postponed Singapore-Hong Kong travel corridor arrangement faces the possibility of never taking off, after Hong Kong lawmakers pushed for the deal to be canned.
A report from Singapore broadsheet The Straits Times states an announcement on a new launch date for the quarantine-free arrangement — formerly known as the air travel bubble — was to have been made on 13 July, but plans were scuppered at the eleventh hour.
At the heart of the problem is Hong Kong’s purported disagreement of Singapore’s shift in pandemic management policy.
The Southeast Asian city-state has in recent months moved towards dealing with the coronavirus as a pandemic, to managing it as endemic. This appears to be at odds with Hong Kong’s zero-infection policy.
While it is unclear how soon authorities in both cities will announce the fate of the travel corridor, it clearly throws yet another curveball in plans to restart travel between the two cities, both of which have suffered from a lack of a domestic air travel market.
Meanwhile, in Thailand, an ambitious plan to reopen the tourism-dependent country by end-October comes at odds with a record surge in coronavirus infections. On 13 July, Thailand reported more than 8,600 fresh infections.
The popular tourist island of Phuket reopened its borders to vaccinated tourists on 1 July, under the auspices of the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ scheme.
In the days leading up to its launch, several quarters expressed scepticism of the success of the scheme, noting among other things that the rest of the country was battling a rise in coronavirus infections.
Thai officials pushed ahead with the opening, welcoming its first tourist in more than a year since borders were shut.
Then, barely a week after Phuket’s reopening, the island reported its first foreign visitor with coronavirus. Elsewhere in the country, rising case numbers prompted Thai health officials to impose a lockdown in the capital Bangkok and some of its surrounding provinces.
The next phase of reopening — 15 July for the Surat Thai province, which encompasses another popular tourist island of Samui — appears to still be going ahead, though it is clear that the scourge of the pandemic has cast a pall on plans.
Even the region’s sole quarantine-free travel arrangement in effect — the Trans-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand — is not without its hiccups.
The bubble was entirely suspended on 26 June, after a spike in cases in various parts of Australia. It follows partial suspensions of the bubble — at a state level — in the previous months, when some states in Australia saw a rise in infections.
While some Australian states have rejoined the travel bubble arrangement, more restrictive mechanisms are in place — including implementing pre-departure testing.
Indeed, the latest wave of the virus has hit the region particularly hard, especially in Southeast Asia, where several countries are battling cases by the thousands daily. It
Most of Asia-Pacific can only look on wistfully, as other parts of the world fuelled by the the progress of the vaccine rollout - notably Europe and North America - begin to resume some form of travel normalcy. Intra-Asia travel, once a ubiquitous affair, seems like a relic of a distant past, as countries continue to hunker down.
Given that governments have their hands full trying to bring down infection numbers, any semblance of a meaningful travel restart will unfortunately only be wishful thinking now.