The number of foreigners entering Singapore from Hong Kong almost doubled from January to last month, according to latest figures from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), reinforcing reports of people fleeing the city for its rival financial hub. Singapore is among several destinations that have become a convenient bolthole for those seeking to ride out Hong Kong’s chaotic handling of the pandemic. Last month, there was a net outflow of 71,000 people from Hong Kong . The 1,790 foreigners arriving into Singapore from Hong Kong last month is still a far cry from pre-pandemic numbers – there were 44,954 such visitors in December 2019 – but it is a two-year high. It is the first time the number, that does not include Singaporeans, permanent residents and transit arrivals, crossed four digits since April 2020 after Singapore shut its borders to travellers at the end of March that year. STB data showed visitors from Hong Kong this year were staying an average of 19.6 days compared to the 3.11 days in pre-pandemic 2019. On social media, Hong Kong residents have been sharing tips and advice on how to maximise their visas for Singapore and what sort of accommodation would be more affordable for longer stays. The rise in visitors from Hong Kong comes amid Singapore’s relaxation of travel rules for many places. Singapore added Hong Kong to its list of vaccinated travel lane destinations (VTL) from February 25, allowing all double-jabbed travellers to use a negative antigen rapid test (ART) or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result to enter the country. They will also need to take a supervised ART within 24 hours of arrival. Previously, their only option was to undergo the more costly PCR test before and after their arrival. The exodus from Hong Kong has been driven by anxiety over a mass testing drive for 7.4 million residents that could include a lockdown , the threat of family separation if young children test positive and the requirement that even those who are asymptomatic and vaccinated must enter government isolation once they test positive. Schools have cancelled in-person classes for students until April 17, and coupled with panic buying that has left supermarket shelves bare, both families and individuals have decided to pack up and leave – even for the short term. They will face hotel quarantine upon returning – the requirement is currently for a 14-day stay. Briton Sin Pui Ip, 31, who works for a tech start-up and is a permanent resident in Hong Kong, is flying to Singapore on Sunday. He is looking to stay for two to three months as he works remotely. He said he was extending his trip for as long as possible “to see if the [Hong Kong] policy changes in the next two months”. Sin will be staying with a friend in Singapore who has a spare room. Sin said he felt claustrophobic in Hong Kong, with restaurants and gyms closed, and that he could not even go into the office or see his friends. He is looking forward to seeing friends in Singapore where there is a “much better” policy of coexisting with the virus. What Singapore can teach Hong Kong on tackling a Covid-19 surge Luxury hotel Shangri-La Singapore said it was seeing more bookings from Hong Kong since the vaccinated travel lane opened. Its general manager John Rice said guests from Hong Kong were “steadily increasing” and staying an average of five to six nights. Singapore on Tuesday recorded 22,201 infections although the numbers could be higher, with people in the highly-vaccinated city state choosing to self-isolate and not report their illness to the health ministry. Almost 70 per cent of the eligible population has received booster shots. Among Singapore’s Covid positive cases, about 1,499 people are in hospital and deaths have averaged eight a day in the past week. Hong Kong has seen some 200 deaths a day, many coming from old-age facilities and care homes, due to the lower vaccination rate among the elderly. While there are still limits on the size of home gatherings and other social distancing curbs, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Wednesday there were “good indications that the omicron transmission wave has peaked and is starting to subside”. The sentiment towards catching the virus in Singapore has also shifted as infections soared in recent months. Half of Singapore’s 868,542 infections occurred in the last 28 days and those in the city state now view the virus as a mild sickness they would catch sooner rather than later. Why some Singaporeans are wishing ‘let me get Covid, please’ Almost back to normal When visitors like Sin enter Singapore, they can dine out in groups of five, go to the gym and cinemas, while wearing face masks in public. The central business district is again teeming with people and bars and restaurants see a lively crowd after office hours. But incoming visitors seeking temporary housing will face a red-hot rental market. Rents for condominiums – part of the pool of private housing that 20 per cent of the population live in – rose 1.6 per cent from December to January. January’s rental prices for condominiums were also 11.2 per cent higher than a year ago. Serviced apartments are also increasing prices to meet high demand from other short-term visitors. Singapore has received tens of thousands of visitors from places like India, Indonesia, Malaysia and even mainland China since November last year, according to STB data. Meanwhile, food prices are also increasing alongside rising inflation and Singapore’s goods and services tax, now at 7 per cent, will go up by one percentage point to 8 per cent from next January. Hong Kong does not have GST. Hongkongers rue cost of ‘washouts’ to return to city battling spike in local cases A senior banker said there has been an “upward trend” over the past 12 to 18 months of money flowing from Hong Kong to Singapore. “We are also seeing Hongkongers going to the UK, Malaysia and other parts of the region. Naturally, once they move out the money flows with them as well,” said the banker, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media. A check of Hong Kong Monetary Authority data shows that bank deposits in all currencies declined by 2.3 per cent from January last year to this year. Since August last year, Hong Kong dollar deposits in particular have declined on a year-on-year basis save for November and December, although they remain higher than they were when the national security law – which caused widespread jitters – was passed in June 2020. Those returning also include Singapore citizens and residents who have been based in Hong Kong. Ivy Low, an international candidate manager for recruiter Robert Walters Singapore, said she had received more inquiries from this group looking to return to the city state. Low said they had done a survey in September last year where four in 10 respondents said they were not affected by the pandemic, but the desire to move out of Hong Kong increased this year. From an economic viewpoint, DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah does not expect the exodus from Hong Kong to Singapore to move the needle for the tourism sector. The numbers are not that big Seah said, and he thought most travellers were “transient in nature”. “I don’t see a drastic inflow of people who have come to Singapore on a permanent basis,” he said, citing how Singapore had raised the qualifying salary for expat workers thrice during the pandemic thus making immigration harder. The economist said he thought Hong Kong still has its value proposition to global companies and financial institutions. “How Hong Kong is able to emerge from this Covid crisis will be even more important than how it deals with the current peak now because that will determine the continued attractiveness of the city to global companies and individuals,” he said.