Palau leader talks travel bubble safety

Having taken a polymerase chain reaction test, Whipps said that it was not pleasant, but extra precautions must be taken to ensure everyone’s safety

  • By Shelley Shan / Staff reporter

Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr yesterday said that precautionary measures are necessary to ensure health and safety during the initial phase of the “travel bubble” between Taiwan and Palau, adding that he is looking forward to more flight services being offered between the countries.

Whipps was talking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Shin Kong Life Insurance Co’s headquarters in Taipei celebrating the launch of the Taipei-Palau travel bubble.

The insurance firm falls under Shin Kong Group, which also owns Shin Kong Wu Ho-su Memorial Hospital. The hospital has since 2013 been receiving patients from Palau under a medical referral agreement signed between the Palauan government and the hospital in 2008.

Whipps said that traveling to Palau would be just as convenient as traveling from Kaohsiung to Taipei.

“In the beginning, there will be processes that we need to work out, but Palau is taking an ‘opening with care’ approach,” he said. “We trust that neither side has a community infection, but we are going to take extra precautions just to keep everybody safe. We will continue to do everything to ensure the safety of both countries.”

Having taken a polymerase chain reaction test, Whipps said that it was not a comfortable experience, but it was for everyone’s safety.

“We will continue to look for technology to improve, but for now that is the process,” he said.

Whipps said he is looking forward to flying back to Palau tomorrow in a full plane, which would also be carrying more than 100 Taiwanese tourists on pilot tours to the country.

“I am also looking forward to many more flights from many more airlines. In the beginning, we said two flights per week. However, we need to make sure that we open the sky and let EVA Airways, Starlux Airlines, Tigerair Taiwan and China Airlines in, and bring Taiwanese tourists to Palau,” he said.

Palau’s partnership with the US was also key in making the travel bubble with Taiwan possible, he said.

Being part of Operation Warp Speed — a partnership between the US departments of Defense, and Health and Human Services aiming to accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine — helped almost 50 percent of the Palauan population receive their first vaccine dose.

Vice President William Lai (賴清德) said that Whipps is the first head of state to visit Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Taiwan is the first country he visited after he was elected in January.

Whipps has used his actions to express his feelings toward Taiwan, Lai said.

Taiwan and Palau cherish the values of freedom, democracy and human rights, he said, adding that both have been brave in rejecting China’s carrot-and-stick approach.

Taiwan and Palau are also examples in fighting COVID-19. Palau has no confirmed COVID-19 cases, whereas Taiwan had 1,025 cases as of yesterday, he said.

Lai encouraged people to visit Palau, which is a beautiful country and is known as “God’s Aquarium.”

The Rock Islands of Palau, for example, have been designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO, he said.

“I wish to one day visit Palau, where I would go diving and see the toothless sharks as President Whipps has recommended,” Lai said. “Like US Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland, I would also post my diving photographs on Facebook.”

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