COVID-19: Australia, Singapore plan travel bubble

Australia is “working with Singapore” to create a travel bubble between the two nations as early as July, officials said yesterday, in an effort to restart tourism and travel put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, Australia effectively closed its international border to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, with non-citizens banned from visiting except in special circumstances.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the country was “working with Singapore at the moment, potentially for a bubble [beginning] in July.”

Photo: Reuters

“As the vaccine rolls out, not only in Australia, but in other countries, we will reopen more bubbles,” he told Australia Broadcasting Corp.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the deal would allow Singaporeans and Australians who had been vaccinated for COVID-19 to travel between the countries without quarantining.

The newspaper said Canberra is also hoping that people from third countries — such as international students, business travelers and returning citizens — could complete two weeks’ quarantine in Singapore before flying to Australia.

However, Singapore, which has already opened its border to a handful of countries that have controlled the virus, including Australia, said it was “not in discussion on the concept of a quarantine center or vaccination hub.”

“Singapore is currently in discussions with Australia on the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates and resumption of travel with priority for students and business travelers,” the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

“We are also discussing the possibility of an air travel bubble which will allow residents of Singapore and Australia to travel between both countries without the need for quarantine,” it said.

Australia’s 14-day hotel quarantine requirement for arrivals has left tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas, with caps on returnees introduced as the limited system has been unable to cope with large numbers.

International tourism — worth about A$45 billion (US$35 billion) per year to the country’s economy before the pandemic hit — has evaporated.

Australia already has a one-way “travel bubble” with New Zealand, allowing Kiwis to visit without quarantining, although the scheme has been suspended a number of times in response to virus outbreaks.

Separately yesterday, Australia recorded its second local case of COVID-19 in as many days after a worker at two quarantine hotels tested positive for the coronavirus.

The infection is the first locally acquired case of COVID-19 in New South Wales in 55 days.

Queensland, which on Saturday reported Australia’s first local infection in two weeks, yesterday said it had detected no cases in the past 24 hours.

Saturday’s case is a doctor who tested positive after she had treated two patients with the UK variant of the virus.

Unsure of the size of the outbreak, Queensland closed hospitals and elderly care facilities to visitors for three days.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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