Taiwan is likely to form a travel bubble with Palau as early as next week, local media has . The Palauan president, Surangel S. Whipps Jr., is set to visit Taiwan to announce the initiative and measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Talks between the two countries started mid last year as both Taiwan and Palau have kept the pandemic under control. But Palau, one of the few Covid-19 free countries around the world, decided not to relax restrictions for Taiwanese travelers, citing limited capacity to care for patients.

Negotiations, however, continued. Whipps Jr., who assumed office in January 2021, called for a “” with Taiwan in December last year before mass vaccinations began. “[T]he availability of the vaccine is a separate issue from securing travel between Palau and Taiwan,” he said.

The president said establishing a travel bubble will be beneficial for Taiwan and Palau’s economies and their travel industries and is also a gesture of humanitarian significance.

Chuang Jen-hsiang, spokesperson for the Central Epidemic Control Center (CECC), said the idea has been brought back to the table given the transparency between the two sides.

The CECC will decide on the details of the travel bubble within this week, but a Taiwanese health staff based in Palau said the initiative will only allow group tourists.

Under the program, Taiwan’s major carriers, China Airlines and EVA Air, will fly eight round-trip flights per week in total between the two countries. Palau Pacific Airways will operate eight more.

Much-anticipated as it is, tour operators say the plan could fall short of expectations to boost both Taiwan and Palau’s tourism sectors, as aircrafts larger than single-aisle planes that accommodate approximately 100 passengers cannot land on Palau’s airport.

Still, businesses are eager to get a slice of the pie. They hail the plan as a great start to open international travel and hope Taiwan has more countries sign on to a travel bubble. Far East International Tourism Group, the travel agency for Palau Pacific Airways, said the tours can start as early as April.

Tao Shi-long, the chairman for the company, expects to see an influx of travelers signing up for the trip, but said they will back out if the quarantine rules are too strict. Some agencies estimate a five-day trip to Palau will cost at least NT$60,000 (US$2,124).

A 14-day quarantine is now mandatory for travelers arriving in Taiwan from Palau, while travelers from Taiwan to Palau are required to quarantine for at least five days, CECC spokesperson Chuang said.

He said Taiwan might shorten the quarantine period for travelers from Palau to five days, and they will be allowed to self-monitor their health at home after being tested negative for PCR tests.

During the trip, tour participants will be allowed to travel to pre-arranged destinations in groups, said Hung Tzu-jen, Shin Kong Memorial Hospital’s deputy superintendent.

The hospital has been offering medical services and testing for the coronavirus in Palau since early days of the pandemic.

Hung said Taiwan and Palau governments plan to set up a Tourist Verification Center, which coordinates with in Taiwan. Before departure to Palau, travelers can get tested for Covid-19 in one of the facilities and have a copy of the result sent to the center.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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