Diplomatic allies Taiwan and Palau opened their coronavirus travel bubble. AFP reports.
Taiwan and Palau launched what is billed as The first coronavirus travel bubble in Asia Thursday, as the two diplomatic allies attempt to revive their battered tourism industries after successfully warding off infections.
About 100 enthusiastic Taiwanese tourists arrived at Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei Thursday morning, check in about five hours before their afternoon flight to be tested for coronavirus.
“I haven’t been on a plane for over a year and I’m so excited,” a passenger told SET TV at the airport.
“This is the inaugural tour and we are on the same flight with the President of Palau,” he added.
President Surangel Whipps has been visiting Taiwan since Sunday and will accompany Taiwanese tourists to his Pacific island country.
Palau lies about 1000 kilometers east of the Philippines and is one of the few places on Earth that has never recorded a case of Covid-19.
It is also one of the 15 countries that still recognize Taiwan on China, despite intense pressure from Beijing to change sides.
Taiwan was struck early by the coronavirus as it spread from China last year.
But he has conquered his own epidemic and has been successful in controlling infections through strict border controls, quarantine and tracing.
“It takes so much time and a lot of long-term effort from everyone to (launch) the travel bubble,” Taiwanese Minister of Health Chen Shih-chung, told reporters.
“Both sides are safe from a pandemic so the journey can begin,” he added.
The plan is to eventually have 16 flights per week on the road, a major lifeline for Palau’s economy, which before the pandemic relied on tourism for more than half of its gross domestic product.
Despite Taiwan’s coronavirus free status, strict measures will still be applied to protect the population of 18,000 Palau from the risk of infection.
All tourists must have a negative test before the flight. They can only travel in groups of tourists and are not allowed to make individual excursions.
Contact with Palau residents will be kept to a minimum, with tourists staying in designated hotels, eating in separate restaurants and allowed to shop only at set times.
Taiwan – a population of 23 million – has been hailed as a global achievement in the fight against the virus, with some 1,030 confirmed cases and 10 deaths.
Whipps acknowledged that no system was foolproof, but said health experts calculated that the likelihood of Covid-19 reaching Palau via the travel bubble was one in four million.
Earlier, Bernadette Carréon in Koror, and Erin Hale in Taipei, filed this report for the Guardian on how the travel bubble works.