Asia Pacific Travel Bubbles: The Latest

Wondering when you won’t have to quarantine after an overseas trip? Here are five two-way travel schemes to watch around the region.

Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd, New Zealand. (Photo: Photoholgic/Unsplash)

Australia – New Zealand

The earliest international travel bubble mooted since the pandemic began has so far struggled to inflate. At the moment, the trans-Tasman Safe Travel Zone only allows quarantine-free for Kiwis entering Australia. Pressure has been mounting on New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to reopen the borders; Ardern told reporters yesterday that a start date for the two-way travel bubble would be revealed on April 6. Instead of pursuing an arrangement with Australia as a whole, New Zealand is now opting to go state by state. This means the country could choose to create bubbles with Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, but not other, more risk-averse states such as Western Australia. When these arrangements eventually take effect, airports in both Australia and New Zealand will be divided into a “green zone” for quarantine-free travelers and a “red zone” for everyone else.

 

Sunset over the 12 Apostles on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. (Photo: Graham Holtshausen/Unsplash)

Australia – Singapore

While Australia-based travelers with an Air Travel Pass have enjoyed quarantine-free entry to Singapore since October, it was only earlier this month that Australia’s federal government publicly expressed an interest in reciprocating. Australian Trade and Travel Minister Dan Tehan has said he is keen to launch a quarantine-free bubble for vaccinated travelers by July or August; the top official is planning to visit the Lion City in the coming months for negotiations over aspects such as a mutually recognized digital vaccine certificate. Singapore is expected to begin inoculating the general public sometime in April, after distributing the jabs to residents aged 60–69 at the end of this month. Australia’s vaccination program, on the other hand, is not expected to cover much of the population until October.

 

Neon signs in the Hong Kong neighborhood of Mong Kok. (Photo: Brayden Law/Unsplash)

Hong Kong – Singapore

The two cities pulled the plug on their much-anticipated Air Travel Bubble (ATB) at the last minute in late November, just as Hong Kong was hit with a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. Earlier this month, Singaporean Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the bilateral agreement was already signed, and though a new date had not yet been set, the two sides were still keen to launch the quarantine-free arrangement “when the conditions are right.” Health authorities in Hong Kong appear to have controlled a recent outbreak at an upscale gym, and the seven-day rolling average of untraceable local infections now stands at exactly two, within the permitted threshold of five for the ATB to take effect.

 

An idyllic scene at Nirwana Beach Club in Lagoi, Bintan. (Photo: Matt Briney/Unsplash)

Singapore – Batam/Bintan

Indonesian and Singaporean authorities are in talks about creating a potential one-way “safe travel corridor” that would allow Lion City residents to spend their holidays on the neighboring islands of Batam and Bintan. At a press conference yesterday, Indonesia’s tourism minister Sandiaga Uno said the arrangement could begin as soon as April 21. The initial phase would see links restored between Singapore and Bintan’s Lagoi resort area, with all arrivals from the Lion City required to show a negative PCR test result. If successful, the scheme would be expanded to include Nongsa in Batam. Sandiaga added that both areas would be set aside for visitors from Singapore; domestic travelers will only be able to enter if they have tested negative for the virus and are already vaccinated.

 

An aerial view of Malakal Island and Koror, Palau. (Photo: Norimoto/iStock)

Taiwan – Palau

April 1 will see the launch of twice-weekly quarantine-free flights between Taiwan and one of its few remaining diplomatic allies, with travelers from both sides allowed to visit for up to eight days. However, the bubble only applies to tour groups, which must avoid crowds and move only within hotels and approved areas. Holidaymakers are also required to fulfill a range of criteria to be eligible: apart from testing negative for Covid-19, they must not have gone overseas in the previous six months, caught the virus three months prior to the trip, or been asked to quarantine in the last two months. Taiwan’s Transportation Minister Lin Chia-lung has said the government is now in discussions with Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam to open up similar travel bubbles.

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