I don’t care
How many letters they sent
Morning came and morning went
Pick up your money
And pack up your tent
You ain’t goin’ nowhere
– You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, Bob Dylan
As with the use of most double negatives, the title of Dylan’s jaunty, countryish song from The Basement Tapes, means exactly the opposite (as in ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones). In other words, you are going nowhere. You are staying put.
And so am I. Next Friday, 27 November, I was bound for Singapore, one of a maximum of 200 passengers allowed onboard SQ891 from Hong Kong. I would have been among those flying between the two locations courtesy of the much-heralded Air Travel Bubble that was due to be launched today, 22 November.
Why would have been? The answer to that question came yesterday via a combination of dual announcements by the Hong Kong and Singapore authorities and an email from Singapore Airlines
The last-named, which arrived in my inbox just before 8pm last night, read: “Given the latest announcement by the authorities, we regret to inform you that SQ891, scheduled to depart from Hong Kong to Singapore on 27 Nov 2020, 12:30 will no longer operate as an Air Travel Bubble (ATB) flight, due to the postponement of the travel bubble between the two cities.
“This flight will be operated as a non-ATB flight instead. Please ensure you meet all required entry requirements and adhere to quarantine measures upon arrival. Those who no longer wish to travel due to the suspension of the Air Travel Bubble will be able to request for a refund of the unutilised portion(s) of their tickets, with cancellation fees waived.”
To remind you, the Air Travel Bubble is a concept that allows travel for all between Hong Kong and Singapore, subject to certain COVID-19 test requirements. Until yesterday, I would have only required a test in the 72 hours before departing for Singapore. Early in the day, though, in response to a spike in Hong Kong cases, that changed to also needing a test on arrival at Changi Airport. By the early evening, as the ramifications of that spike became clearer, the game was up. The Air Travel Bubble had been put on hold for at least two weeks.
I’m disappointed, of course. I was looking forward to seeing friends in Singapore and to exploring the city state so that I could make a final decision on where to base myself for the coming, hopefully post-COVID, recovery years.
But my feelings pale in comparison to those of others who were planning to fly for family or personal reasons, to meet up with loved ones they might not have seen for months. And they are nothing in comparison to the emotions of those at Hong Kong International and Changi airports who had worked so hard and were looking forward so much to the restoration of some kind of normality in this crazy, mixed-up world.
For now, like the bubble itself, the celebratory balloons at Hong Kong International Airport will have to be deflated, the Heinemann welcoming gifts set aside. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the laudable scheme is reinstigated. The world needs to be travelling again and the concept of carefully monitored travel between two places where the authorities and the people have shown so much discipline in controlling this damned disease remains valid.
The impact of this last-minute change, though, will further erode consumer confidence in travelling, given an ever-evolving health situation and varying government responses to it.
In Hong Kong, tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing told the South China Morning Post that he was not only disappointed the bubble had been postponed but was also concerned about the longer term impact. “We’re unsure if the COVID-19 situation in both places will be considered safe in two weeks,” he said. “There could be more delays for the travel bubble.”
Yiu said the postponement could “severely set back” plans to resume cross-border travel with Mainland China as well. “A lot of travel agents and hotels were looking forward to the success of the air travel bubble as a gauge on recovery,” he said. “We’ll have to bear the brunt a bit longer.”
Make no mistake, this is the right and prudent call by the Singapore and Hong Kong authorities. But it does suggest, as so many people have long argued, that a more stringent dual testing procedure, pre-departure and on-arrival, must be the way ahead, certainly until the arrival and mass dissemination of a vaccine – and probably beyond.
Until then, alas, many of you – and I – ain’t going nowhere.