Taiwan, Palau to open travel bubble next month


TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP)—Taiwan and the Pacific nation of Palau will launch a travel bubble next month, allowing people to travel between the islands without a COVID-19 quarantine.

Palau is one of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies after China lured other countries to deny recognition of the self-governed island it considers part of its own territory.

The travel bubble will be Taiwan’s first after it largely closed to foreign travel in one of the world’s most successful campaigns against the coronavirus.

Palau for its part has had zero cases of COVID-19, Chen Shih-chung, the head of Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, said at a news conference announcing the bubble Wednesday.

Travelers must be in group tours and must meet certain health conditions but will not have to quarantine, according to Chen.

Travelers must have not been outside borders in six months, have no history of being asked to quarantine in the last two months and have not been infected with the coronavirus in the last three months, Chen said. They must take a virus test before leaving Taiwan and upon returning and must monitor their health, especially in the first five days upon their return.

The bubble will start with two flights per week between the two islands, with the first flight scheduled on April 1.

Taiwan has recorded about 990 cases of coronavirus infection, with 10 deaths from COVID-19. The island took strict measures quickly after the first cases were detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. It has strict border measure controls with a mandatory two-week quarantine for all travelers and has been mostly shut to foreign travelers unless they have work or live in Taiwan.

Much of the existing tourism from Palau to Taiwan is medical tourism, and Taiwan is a supplier of virus tests and other medical supplies.

Palau’s current travel policy is for new arrivals to quarantine for 14 days if their point of origin is a high-risk location, while a briefer quarantine is possible for people who traveled from places without ongoing community transmission of the virus.

Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr. will come to Taiwan on March 28 on an official visit to promote the island’s tourism industry, although it will not be a formal state visit, said Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

The islands have had a diplomatic relationship since 1999.

Associated Press
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