Travel Bubble & How 11 Asia-Pacific Countries Are Restarting Travel
UPDATED APRIL 27, 2021
Although the planned travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore was initially scrapped a day before its launch in November last year after a sudden spike in Covid-19 infections, both countries have now agreed to start quarantine-free travel from May 26, 2021.
"I am happy that Hong Kong got the Covid-19 situation under control. It has been a long few months, but the conditions are now ripe again to re-launch the ATB (Air Travel Bubble)", BBC quoted Singapore's Minister of Transport Ong Ye Kung as saying.
The harsh reality of the COVID-19 pandemic is that much of life as we once knew has changed. On top of restricting how we live and interact with one another, and how we work and communicate, it has also heavily crippled the tourism industry. Travel has become a rare luxury with strict guidelines and restrictions.
According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), 96 per cent of the planet’s destinations have imposed travel restrictions, either completely or partially closing their borders. With Malaysia keeping its borders closed to tourists into 2021, international travel will remain off the table for now.
The adrenaline rush from the ride to the airport, boarding that long-awaited flight to your destination, using foreign currencies, speaking a smattering of a different language, and taking pictures at scenic spots to fill your Instagram with travel-brag-worthy shots are now a distant memory. But there is hope yet.
UNTWO estimated that international tourism could decline by up to 80 per cent this year over 2019, putting at least 100 million jobs at risk. In light of this, countries are now putting new arrangements in place to strike a balance between health and economic concerns, to save international commerce and tourism from further decline.
On November 11, 2020, Singapore’s Ministry of Transport (MOT) announced that the air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong will launch on November 22, with one flight a day into each city with 200 passengers each way. But what exactly is a travel bubble and how does it work?
A travel bubble is a bilateral agreement to ease border restrictions and allow quarantine-free travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the case of Singapore and Hong Kong, there'll be no restrictions on the purpose of travel. Travellers will be able to roam freely in both destinations with no need to provide a predetermined itinerary, and visitors between the two cities won’t be subjected to quarantine. However, travellers can only fly on dedicated flights operated by Singapore Airlines (SQ) and Cathay Pacific (CX), and they'll be required to take COVID-19 tests before departure and upon arrival, among other eligibility criteria.
While it’s an important step for countries to rebuild from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and support the recovery of the airline industry, travel bubbles do require a certain amount of reciprocated faith and trust in partner countries and their ability to contain the virus. It remains to be seen if new waves of COVID-19 will pop up and cause the travel bubble to burst. For now, the show must go on, and so will travel.
Here are 11 Asia-Pacific countries that already have this arrangement or are also considering travel bubbles in some shape or form with their neighbours:
Established green lane with Singapore in August 2020 for selected travellers under the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) travel schemes. The former "enables short-term travel for official purposes and essential business for up to a maximum of 14 days’ stay", while the latter "allows the entry of residents of both countries who hold valid work passes". Both have strict health and visa protocols.
Malaysia is currently in discussion with Singapore and Brunei to create travel bubbles as well as plans on setting up green lanes with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea.
Australia reopened borders with New Zealand in October 2020, allowing New Zealand citizens and residents to enter its state of New South Wales without having to undergo the 14-day quarantine. It's considering opening travel bubbles with Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Pacific island nations.
Tightly controlled air corridor between China and South Korea for business and official travel was launched in May 2020. Essential travel for business and official purposes are allowed between China and Singapore since June 2020. It's planning travel bubbles with Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
It has established green lanes allowing essential travel for business and official purposes between Singapore and China, Malaysia, Brunei, South Korea, Japan, and Indonesia. Talks are underway to establish COVID-safe corridors for air travel with South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
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5/11 Hong Kong
Planning travel bubbles with mainland China, Macau, and Taiwan.
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Green lane with Singapore is in place since October 2020. It has also established a travel corridor with the UAE to facilitate official and diplomatic trips between the two countries.
Reciprocal travel bubbles available for long-term residents from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Taiwan. It's currently negotiating with Australia, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Macau, New Zealand, South Korea, and Singapore.
Considering opening reciprocal travel bubbles with China, South Korea, and Japan.
9/11 South Korea
Tightly controlled air corridor between South Korea and China for business and official travel launched in May 2020. The country is planning a travel bubble with Singapore.
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The Land of Smiles is currently in talks with China to establish a quarantine-free travel corridor by January 2021 to rescue its ailing tourism industry.
In negotiations with New Zealand, Australia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand to resume international flight operations.
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