Officials in Singapore and Hong Kong said Thursday that they had reached a preliminary agreement to establish a travel bubble between the two Asian financial centers, allowing travelers of all kinds to bypass quarantine.
Under the agreement, travelers must test negative for the virus and fly only on designated flights. Officials did not say when the bubble, which was first reported by The South China Morning Post, would begin.
Travelers from Singapore would be the first allowed to enter Hong Kong since the semiautonomous Chinese territory barred all nonresidents in March; residents returning to Hong Kong are required to quarantine for 14 days. Singapore currently requires travelers from Hong Kong to quarantine for seven days after arrival.
“Both our cities have low incidence of Covid-19 cases and have put in place robust mechanisms to manage and control Covid-19,” Singapore’s travel minister, Ong Ye Kung, said in a statement.
Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, Edward Yau, called the agreement “a milestone in our efforts to resume normalcy while fighting against the long-drawn battle of Covid-19.”
Singapore and Hong Kong have both been reporting daily new cases in the single or double digits since late August.
Efforts to establish reciprocal travel bubbles in Asia and other parts of the world have been halting as case numbers fluctuate and new outbreaks emerge. Starting Friday, Australia will waive quarantine requirements for travelers from New Zealand, which recently stamped out the virus for a second time, though New Zealand will still require quarantine for travelers arriving from Australia.
Singapore has also lifted restrictions on general visitors from Brunei, Vietnam, New Zealand and Australia except for the state of Victoria, the center of the outbreak there. But all four of those countries are still closed to almost all foreigners, and in the case of Brunei and Australia residents must apply for permission to leave the country as well.
In other global developments:
The European Parliament announced on Thursday that it would cancel a meeting scheduled to be held next week in Strasbourg, in northern France, as the outbreak widens. The meeting would have been its first in-person session in Strasbourg since the start of the pandemic. Belgium, where most parliamentary staff and members are based, is also seeing a sharp rise in cases.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, went into quarantine for a second time in two weeks after being exposed to the virus. She tweeted on Thursday that she had tested negative, but a member of her office had tested positive. She wrote that she was leaving a European Council meeting in Brussels that was being held with strict social-distancing measures.
Portugal announced new virus restrictions on Thursday, including a five-person limit on public gatherings, after a rise in new cases. In Spain, which is seeing an even sharper increase, the city of Salamanca, famous for its 12th-century university, became the latest area to be cut off from the rest of the country, under new lockdown restrictions imposed by the regional government. The restrictions take effect on Saturday.
Two officials in Qingdao, China, have been fired amid a new virus outbreak there, the city government said on Thursday. The director of the health commission and the president of the Qingdao Chest Hospital are under investigation after six confirmed infections and six asymptomatic cases were linked to the hospital. The new cases are the first local transmissions China had reported in almost two months.
The weekly number of new cases in Europe is now at its highest point since the start of the pandemic, Hans Kluge, the W.H.O.’s director for Europe, said on Thursday. The number of confirmed cases rose by one million to seven million in just 10 days, and the number of daily deaths passed 1,000 for the first time in months. Many European countries are adopting stricter controls, which Dr. Kluge called “absolutely necessary,” as increased caseloads are raising fears of another surge as winter approaches.
India is now struggling with two major health challenges that are both assaulting the respiratory system and peaking at the same time. Coronavirus cases are spreading, putting the country on track to have the largest reported caseload in the world in the coming weeks. It’s also the start of the fall pollution season, and doctors say that if the ambient air suddenly becomes more toxic, as it does every year around this time in northern India, then more people who become infected by the virus might end up in the hospital or die.