• By Lee I-chia / Staff reporter

The first batch of tourists to visit Palau under a COVID-19 “travel bubble” returned to Taiwan at about 10:30pm on Sunday, with several passengers saying they felt blessed to be able to travel abroad safely during the pandemic.

The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, last month announced the opening of a “travel bubble” between Taiwan and its ally Palau, exempting the travelers from quarantine after arrival in either country.

The first flight to Palau took off from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on Thursday afternoon, after the passengers tested negative for COVID-19 in a polymerase chain reaction test taken at the airport in the morning. The 100 passengers were divided into seven tour groups.

Photo: CNA

The returning passengers received a smartphone message from the Ministry of Health and Welfare asking them to fill in a passenger health declaration form and received a self-health management notice upon arrival at the airport.

Taoyuan International Airport Corp (TIAC, 桃園國際機場) had arranged a special entry route for the returning passengers, with a designated duty-free shopping area, restrooms and immigration counter separate from other passengers.

A man, surnamed Chen (陳), who joined the tour, said that tour group members followed regulations, including staying with the group and practicing disease prevention measures during the trip, so he felt blessed that Taiwanese were able to travel abroad safely during the pandemic.

TIAC chief executive Jerry Dann (但昭璧) said the entry process went smoothly, as the company, the CECC, the Tourism Bureau and other government agencies worked together in designing the special route and making the arrangements.

As it was the first trip, the tour guides and tourists might have been unfamiliar with some procedures, so there is room for improvement, he said.

However, overall, the operation went smoothly, with all passengers completing customs checks before 11:17pm on Sunday, he added.

Separately, Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), who is also the CECC spokesman, yesterday reported one new imported case of COVID-19: an Indonesian student.

The student, who is in her 20s, arrived in Taiwan on March 21, and did not show any symptoms at the time, but reported that she had close contact with a confirmed case in Indonesia.

The student tested positive on Saturday upon ending centralized quarantine, Chuang said.

Additional reporting by CNA

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