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Asia Today: Hong Kong, Singapore OK quarantine-free travel


Hong Kong and Singapore will start an air travel bubble at the end of November, allowing travellers from each city to visit the other without entering quarantine in a first step to stimulate tourism amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting Nov. 22, visitors from either city must have a negative virus test result before they leave, when they arrive and before they return. Flights designated to carry passengers in the bubble will carry a maximum of 200 travellers each. It will start with one flight a day to each city and increase to two designated flights Dec. 7.

The bubble will be suspended for two weeks if either Hong Kong or Singapore reports a seven-day moving average of more than five untraceable coronavirus infections, according to the Hong Kong government.

“Hong Kong and Singapore are similar in terms of epidemic control. Both are regional aviation hubs and international cities, enjoying strong trade, investment, finance, tourism and people-to-people ties,” said Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development Edward Yau. “The revival of cross-border air travel between the two places is of utmost importance.”

He said that he hopes the aviation, tourism, hotel and retail businesses will benefit from the bubble, and that it would gradually help Hong Kong’s economy to recover.

Separately, government officials also announced that Hong Kong residents returning to the city from Guangdong province or Macau will be exempted from quarantine from Nov. 23, as long as they register in advance and test negative for the coronavirus.

However, the exemption from quarantine is only one-way, and Hong Kong residents travelling to the mainland must still serve 14 days of quarantine on arrival.

A temporary daily quota of visitors is in place. This is to ensure it can be handled smoothly and without overcrowding, according to Tommy Yuen, director of special duties at the constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Vanuatu has recorded its first case of the coronavirus after a citizen who had been repatriated from the United States tested positive while in quarantine. The Pacific nation had been among the last few countries to have avoided the virus altogether. Health authorities say the 23-year-old man was asymptomatic when he returned on Nov. 4 and his infection was confirmed Tuesday after routine day 5 testing. Authorities say they plan to keep everyone from the same flight in quarantine and to trace the man’s close contacts but don’t need to impose any broader measures in the nation of 300,000 people.

— India’s capital has recorded a new peak of 7,830 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours as festivals and weddings attended by large crowds fuel a resurgence. Authorities targeted testing in shopping areas, workplaces and religious places with New Delhi’s tally continuing to be more than 7,000 daily this week after dropping to nearly 1,000 in September. India's infections overall have held steady recently with 44,281 new cases reported Wednesday. The Health Ministry also reported 512 deaths, taking total fatalities to 127,571. Testing in India has generally remained opaque, with the government not sharing the total share of rapid tests that India has used to boost its testing levels in the past months. The rapid antigen tests can miss infections, while the RT-PCR molecular tests are more reliable.

— The number of daily new coronavirus cases is on the rise in Japan as the country has entered a third wave of infections, experts said Wednesday. Experts on a Japanese coronavirus task force said the rise of infections has picked up since earlier this month, with daily new cases repeatedly exceeding 1,000. “I think we can say that a third wave of infections has started,” Japan Medical Association president Toshio Nakagawa told reporters. He said a rapid resurgence in Hokkaido, where clusters have been spotted in night entertainment areas in the prefectural capital of Sapporo, is particularly a concern. Hokkaido had 197 cases Wednesday, after reporting a prefectural record of 200 on Monday. As of Wednesday morning, Japan had 110,156 total cases with 1,841 deaths.

— A leading Chinese health official has expressed confidence the country may avoid a second wave of coronavirus infections this winter if it maintains current precautions. Feng Zijian, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told leading financial magazine Caixin that China “will very likely prevent” a new round of infections given present trends. Feng described the present state of the outbreak in China as “very safe overall.” China has largely eliminated new local outbreaks by requiring masks indoors and on public transport, requiring two-week quarantines for those entering the country and banning some foreign travellers entirely. Authorities have quickly moved to address local outbreaks by tracing potential contacts, carrying out widespread testing and sometimes locking down entire communities. While China was accused of suppressing information about the outbreak at its initial stage, its recent data have not been seriously challenged and local officials have moved swiftly to disclose new cases. That has allowed the world’s second-largest economy to largely recover, partly with the help of the country’s thriving home delivery services.

— The number of South Koreans with jobs annually declined for the eighth straight month in October, a streak unseen since a 2009 financial crisis. Statistics Korea on Wednesday said the number of employed people in the country was measured at 27.09 million last month, 421,000 fewer than a year earlier, with fears of viral spread and global lockdowns decimating jobs in both domestic service industries and export-driven manufacturing sectors. “The (domestic) resurgence of COVID-19 since August and the prolonging of the virus crisis have expanded the job losses,” Statistics Korea official Chung Dong-myung during a briefing. The country added 146 new cases on Wednesday, its fourth straight day of over 100, bringing its caseload to 27,799, including 485 deaths.

— New Zealand’s central bank is making more monetary moves to counter the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The Reserve Bank says that from December, it will provide retail banks with lower funding costs, allowing them, in turn, to lower borrowing rates for companies and households. That's in addition to a large asset-buying program already introduced by the central bank. The bank also announced Wednesday that it was keeping its benchmark interest rate at a record low 0.25% and was considering lowering it to zero or to a negative rate next year. But the bank also said it was considering reintroducing mortgage restrictions from next March due to concerns about an increase in house prices and high-risk lending to housing investors.

The Associated Press

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