Taiwan and Palau to launch air-travel bubble; success in coronavirus fight makes link between allies possible

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  • The scheme will involve two flights a week, and will require negative Covid-19 tests for travellers from Taiwan
  • Palau, in Micronesia, is one of 15 countries with official ties to Taiwan, and has not seen a single Covid-19 infectio

Taiwan and its southern Pacific ally, Palau, will inaugurate a much anticipated air-travel bubble from April 1, hoping to revive their economies and tourism industries hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Palau is one of 15 countries that maintain official ties with Taiwan and has reported no Covid-19 infections since the virus’ outbreak. As of Wednesday, Taiwan had 990 confirmed cases, with 10 deaths, according to data from the Central Epidemic Command Centre.

Calling the air-travel bubble plan “the first in the Asia-Pacific region”, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told a press conference at the Central Epidemic Command Centre that Palau’s new president, Surangel Whipps Jnr, would travel to Taiwan on March 28, a few days ahead of the official launch.

“It will be President Whipps’ first overseas trip after taking office in January, and the first foreign leader Taiwan has received since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Wu said.

Whipps has been advocating for the establishment of a “sterile corridor” with Taiwan as a way to revive their economies and travel industries, Wu added.

According to Wu, talks started last year as both have successfully kept the Covid-19 pandemic in check. However, negotiations were put on hold due to Palau’s concerns about its low medical capacity.

Taiwanese Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung, who heads the Central Epidemic Command Centre, told the same press conference that both sides were taking a conservative approach, as the scheme was experimental.

Chi Wen-chung, deputy minister of transport and communications, said there would be two flights a week at the initial stage, with a maximum of 110 people being permitted on each flight, while 48 more seats would be reserved for Palauan national

Only prearranged group tours will be allowed, and a mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement will be replaced with Covid-19 testing and self-health management measures.

Travellers departing from Taiwan must test negative for Covid-19 at Taoyuan International Airport, and upon returning, they must complete 14 days of self-health monitoring, including a Covid-19 test on the fifth day.

Palau’s visitors will not need to undergo a compulsory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Taiwan but must present a negative Covid-19 test result within three days before a tour.

The scheme would be re-evaluated regularly, and if all goes well, the number of flights could be increased, Chi said.

Source : South China Morning Post, 18th March 2021

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