Discussions on Taiwan-Palau travel bubble to conclude soon

Taipei, March 9 (CNA) Discussions on establishing a “travel bubble” between Taiwan and Palau are expected to conclude before the end of the month, a high-level official from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Tuesday, confirming an earlier exclusive report from CNA.

“Discussions are ongoing and the results will hopefully be known in mid-March or before the month’s end,” Larry Tseng (曾瑞利), head of the ministry’s Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said at a regular press briefing.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), Ministry of Transportation and Communications and MOFA are some of the agencies involved in the discussion, he said.

Tseng also confirmed that Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. is keen to visit Taiwan on the first flight once the travel bubble is established.

However, he added, the date of Whipps’ visit is still being arranged.

Meanwhile, CECC spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said in a separate press briefing that both Taiwan and Palau are hoping to eliminate the need for home quarantine as part of the travel arrangement, so people will be more encouraged to travel.

Details such as the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results are still being worked out, Chuang added.

Currently, all passengers arriving in Palau are required to remain in quarantine for 14-days at a designated site.

CNA first reported the planned “travel bubble,” which Palau describes as a “sterile corridor,” on Sunday, citing sources in the travel industry.

The arrangement would allow travel between the two countries, with arriving passengers on each side subject to fewer COVID-19 restrictions.

Taiwan’s two major carriers, China Airlines (CAL) and Eva Airways (EVA Air), will likely operate six and two round-trip flights per week to Palau, respectively, sources said.

As part of the precautionary measures for COVID-19 transmission, authorities are considering allowing commercial flights to utilize only 70 percent of passenger capacity, according to sources.

If such a rule is imposed, CAL’s Boeing 737-800s, which were used on the route prior to the pandemic, will only be allowed to carry 110 passengers per trip, while EVA Air’s Airbus A320 aircraft will be limited to 128 passengers per trip.

Meanwhile, officials from Tigerair Taiwan confirmed that Palau Pacific Airways is negotiating an aircraft rental deal.

If the proposal is approved by Taiwan’s authorities, Tigerair Taiwan’s A320 aircraft will add another 126 seats per trip on the route.

Currently, air service agreements between Taiwan and Palau allow both sides to have a total of eight flights per week.

Palau, one of Taiwan’s 15 diplomatic allies, has not had any confirmed cases since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taiwan has recorded 977 cases of COVID-19, 861 of which have been classified as imported, with 10 fatalities, according to CECC statistics as of Tuesday.

(By Chung Yu-chen, Chen Wei-ting, Wang Shu-fen, Hsu Chih-wei and Emerson Lim)