Taiwan and Palau launched Asia’s first travel bubble for quarantine-free travel last week, CNN reported.
Residents can now travel back and forth between the islands without a mandatory quarantine – but they must follow strict rules.
Before leaving their country of residence, travelers are required to arrive at the airport 5.5 hours early to take an on-site COVID-19 test, according to CNN. And once they arrive in the other country, they must travel in government-approved tour groups, stay in approved hotels, and follow specific approved itineraries to avoid contact with locals.
The first flight of what Palau calls a “sterile corridor” left Taipei on April 1. The travelers from Taiwan were greeted by Palau President Surangel Whipps upon arrival in Palau.
Taiwan, a disputed island that China claims as its own territory, is only recognized by 15 countries and territories – including Palau – meaning that most of the world would not view this travel bubble as one between two independent nations.
Taiwan’s and Palau’s tourism boards did not respond to Insider’s request for more details on the travel arrangement.
Video: Taiwan opens first travel bubble with Palau (Reuters)
New hope for travel bubbles
Countries around the world have attempted different versions of quarantine-free travel bubbles to revitalize their economies in the pandemic, but not all have been successful.
In September, a European travel bubble between neighboring Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania was dissolved after three months when Estonia had a new outbreak. In November, Singapore and Hong Kong nearly launched a bubble but postponed the plan at the last minute after cases started to rise in Hong Kong. For months, Singapore has allowed tourists from Australia, Brunei, mainland China, New Zealand, and Taiwan into the city-state without quarantining, but those places have not reciprocated.
The spring of 2021, however, seems to be bringing a renewed optimism in travel bubbles as vaccinations ramp up in many countries.
Despite the restrictions of the Taiwan-Palau travel corridor, many tourists returning to Taiwan said they were happy with the experience and thrilled to be able to travel after so long, according to Focus Taiwan.
On Tuesday, Australia and New Zealand announced they would be launching a travel bubble on April 18. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said the bubble would be “flyer beware,” meaning that travelers would take on the risk of getting stranded in another country if a lockdown were to be reimposed.
Singapore is also in talks with Australia about launching a potential travel bubble.