Taiwan to open first travel bubble, with tiny Palau

FILE PHOTO: Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu speaks at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, September 3, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will form its first travel bubble during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the tiny Pacific nation of Palau, the government said on Wednesday.

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention, but has kept its borders largely shut, and the bubble marks a small return to normality. Taiwan currently has only 29 active cases being treated in hospitals.

Palau, one of only 15 countries to officially recognise the Chinese-claimed island’s government, and whose president plans to visit Taiwan, has reported zero cases.

“I’m glad to announce the official launch of the Taiwan-Palau travel bubble,” Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters, calling the move a demonstration of “firm friendship” between the two.

The travel bubble will start in April, with two flights a week carrying 110 tourists each from Taiwan to Palau. Travellers must present negative coronavirus tests and join tour groups, in which they will be asked to follow social-distancing rules such as only visiting designated sites and hotels.

Taiwan will also take tourists travelling in groups from Palau.

Wu said Palau President Surangel Whipps would visit Taiwan and meet President Tsai Ing-wen on March 28 in what he calls a “significant” trip that will boost the bilateral relationship. Palau is home to fewer than 20,000 people and also has close relations with the United States.

In April, Taiwan reported a coronavirus outbreak among sailors visiting Palau, though the source of the infections was never confirmed.

Palau is a three-and-a-half hour flight from Taiwan and is famed for its clear waters and pristine coral reefs. China Airlines Ltd, Taiwan’s largest carrier, will fly the travel bubble route.

Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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