Once again, the Singapore Airlines (SIA) has unfortunately been banned from flying passengers into Hong Kong for two weeks after some of the passengers arrived at the airport with positive COVID-19 results.
SIA’s Response and Apology
On 16 February, an SIA spokesperson replied to the media inquiries: “The directive from Hong Kong regulators came after some SIA customers, who had tested negative for COVID-19 for their pre-departure tests, subsequently tested positive on arrival in Hong Kong.
“We are unable to comment further due to confidentiality reasons.”
To be fair to the passengers and airline alike, who never wished this upon themselves, there are a couple of plausible reasons for the negative turned positive.
Possible Theories Behind the Discrepancy
If you give the passengers the benefit of the doubt, they might have contracted the Omicron Subvariant BA.2 which has proven that it can throw out false negatives on Antigen Rapid Tests (ARTs) and Polymerase Chain (PCR) tests.
It’s called the “stealth variant” for a reason, after all.
Moreover, Omicron Subvariant BA.2 is spreading much faster than expected such that it is 30% more transmissible than its parent lineage and is the current dominant strain of many countries.
If we want to make it sound bad, then it’s either the passengers coincidentally contracted COVID-19 from a passer-by at the airport, or they lied about their pre-departure test results, which would about another slew of problems that is better left unravelled.
We don’t need another Jipson Quah and Iris Koh, thanks.
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Flights from Hong Kong to Singapore Unaffected
The two daily flights, SQ882 and SQ894, heading towards Hong Kong will only resume operations on 1 March.
SIA will probably be spraying down that vessel with so much disinfectant, you can breathe in the residual alcohol molecules in the air once you step onto those planes again.
But SQ883 and SQ895, the twice-daily passenger flights from Hong Kong to Singapore, are not affected.
SIA extends its apologies to the affected and delayed customers and said that it will contact them to offer assistance and minimise the inconvenience caused by the unexpected disturbance.
Not the First Suspension of Flights
Alas, SIA is no stranger to suspensions, because the same issue cropped up back in April 2021 as well.
Back then, SIA had breached the city’s “trigger points”.
In that instance, there had been a passenger of similar circumstance, who had tested negative pre-departure, only to test positive upon landing.
Later on, it was also discovered that the test documents of three passengers didn’t meet the regulatory requirements set out by the Hong Kong authorities.
Hong Kong’s Zero Tolerance for COVID-19 Policy
As for the difference in treatment between Hong Kong and Singapore passengers, it all boils down to the policies that the cities have to comply with.
Hong Kong has been following China’s zero tolerance for COVID-19 strategy for more than two years.
The “zero tolerance” strategy includes cutting down companies’ productions and operations as much as possible to ensure that outbreaks can be completely contained.
And given that China can’t beat COVID-19 into submission within its own domestic borders since the virus has a tenacity of a headless cockroach, the country has decided that it could stop imported cases at least.
Plus, the timing couldn’t be worse because the highly transmissive Omicron variant has just hit the mainland as well.
Presently, Hong Kong is barely coping with all the testing, quarantine, and treatments that has been growing in demand as the case load rises.
Meanwhile, in the words of Transport Minister S Iswaran, Singapore can’t afford the same stringency because it needs to “maintain connectivity” to the rest of the region and world, since the city-state is built on imports, exports, and tourism.
With all that has been said and done, it’s no surprise that SIA was forced to turn its tail and fly back and cease operations temporarily.
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