The island nations of Taiwan and Palau have created Asia’s first travel bubble yesterday, allowing citizens of the two countries to fly back and forth without quarantine. After a year of Covid-19 blocking the majority of global travel, this bubble is a promising first step in the new normal of international tourism.
Palau, the tiny Micronesian archipelago of 500 islands dotting the western Pacific Ocean, calls it a “sterile corridor” connecting the two countries. China Airlines, the Taiwanese carrier, flew the 4-hour journey between Taipei airport and Palau’s main airport yesterday afternoon.
To maintain a successful Taiwan-Palau travel bubble, passengers arrived over 5 hours early to receive Covid-19 testing, allowing results to be received an hour before take-off. Tight restrictions are being followed, including mandatory mask-wearing, despite extremely low infections during the pandemic. Palau, with a population of about 18,000 people, managed to ride out coronavirus completely unscathed, without a single infection. Taiwan suffered just 10 deaths amongst the 1,022 total infections within their borders.
If successful, Taiwan plans on attempting a similar travel bubble with Guam next. Thailand had been eyeing the travel bubble concept between several countries including China in the past month.
Once travellers arrive in Palau, they are required to join one of 6 tour groups sanctioned by the government following specific itineraries strictly. The tours will stay in endorsed hotels and visit approved attractions only. Tours include snorkelling the Japanese shipwreck at Lake Yamanaka, stopping at the world’s smallest national park Chang Causeway Park, visiting the famed “jellyfish lake”, a mud bath in Milky Lake’s famously beautifying mud, kayaking, and afternoon tea. These tours sell for about 82,000 baht for 4 days or 104,000 baht for a 5-day package.
While this travel bubble scheme between Taiwan and Palau offers new hope for post-pandemic tourism returning soon and is mostly viewed as positive, there are some potentially controversial connotations in the launch. The Chinese government considers Taiwan to be a self-governed territory still owned by China, thus limiting Taiwan’s ability to enact an international policy like a travel bubble. Palau is one of only 15 nations that officially recognise and have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
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