Australia Eyes “Travel Bubble” with Singapore

Vaccinated travelers from the Lion City could potentially be given quarantine-free access by July or August.

A view of Sydney from the iconic Harbour Bridge. (Photo: Dan Freeman/Unsplash)

With Hong Kong still off-limits for the foreseeable future due to a fresh surge of coronavirus cases, Singapore residents can instead look forward to the prospect of overseas holidays in Australia, which may become a reality as early as the middle of this year.

Over the weekend, sources within Australia’s federal government revealed to The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age that talks between the two countries had already begun, and the potential “travel bubble” was subsequently confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack during an interview with public broadcaster ABC yesterday.

Australian Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan added that he was planning to visit Singapore in the coming months to negotiate various aspects of the scheme, including the development of a mutually recognized digital vaccination certificate for travelers. “Singapore are very keen to work with Australia on a proof of vaccination certificate and we agreed our officials should work together on this,” he said.

Should the “travel bubble” be successfully introduced, vaccinated Australians will no longer have to seek approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs to travel to Singapore, while those based in the Lion City who have received their jabs will be free to visit Australia for work and leisure.

The proposal goes beyond allowing two-way quarantine-free travel. Canberra hopes that returning Australian citizens, international students, and business travelers will have the option to undergo their two-week quarantine in the Southeast Asian city-state, thereby relieving pressure on the Australian hotel quarantine system. Limited spots in quarantine facilities have meant strict caps on the number of passenger flights allowed into the country on a weekly basis, stranding as many as 40,000 Australians abroad. The federal government is optimistic that the Lion City could also serve as a potential vaccination hub under the upcoming plan.

Singapore has already unilaterally reopened its borders to travelers from Australia since October last year, but because it is not a reciprocal agreement, Australians who choose to go will still have to spend 14 days in mandatory quarantine upon their return. The Australia–Singapore arrangement is being seen as an alternative to the long-delayed trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand. Little progress has been made on that front, even though it was meant to be launched by April, and the scheme now appears to be shelved for the time being.

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