SYDNEY – Australia is working on an ambitious plan to establish Singapore as a COVID-19 quarantine gateway and potential vaccination hub for returning Australians, international students and business travelers.  

The deal with Singapore could allow passengers en route to Australia to satisfy strict biosecurity rules before arrival.  

Ministers hope the proposal with the south-east Asian city would help about 40,000 Australians stranded overseas return home, boost tourism and revive the multibillion-dollar market for international students at Australian universities, which has been badly hit by border closures. 

It is a year since Canberra, Australia’s capital, barred most foreign travelers in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. The ban has recently been extended until at least June.   

Australian deputy prime minister Michael McCormack says the government is preparing to restart international travel.  

“We are also making sure that the planes are going to be ready. You cannot just roll a plane out of a hangar and stick it back on an international route. We are working with Singapore at the moment potentially for a bubble in July, and these are positive signs. And as the vaccine rolls out in not only Australia but in other countries as well, we will reopen more bubbles,” McCormack said.

Under the plan, Australians would be allowed to fly to Singapore without government approval provided they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.  

Also, Singaporeans who have been inoculated would be permitted to travel to Australia without having to undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine.  

Australia has given travelers from New Zealand similar concessions, but authorities in Wellington have yet to reciprocate to allow entry to Australians.  

Australian citizens can return home from overseas, but they face mandatory quarantine. Thousands of people have been left stranded because of limited capacity in secure hotels.  

Australia has recorded just over 29,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. 909 people have died, according to the Health Department.  

There have been four key parts to the nation’s coronavirus strategy; restrictions on international travel, strict lockdowns, sophisticated contact tracing and mass testing.   

A nationwide vaccination program began last month.