Taiwan, Palau planning to establish ‘travel bubble’: sources

Taipei, March 7 (CNA) A long-discussed “travel bubble” between Taiwan and Palau may soon be established, with sources telling CNA that Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. is likely to visit Taiwan in mid-March to announce the initiative.

The “travel bubble,” which Palau describes as a “sterile corridor,” would allow travel between the two countries, with arriving passengers on each side subject to fewer restrictions, according to the sources.

Under the program, Taiwan’s two major carriers, China Airlines and Eva Airways, will operate six and two round-trip flights per week to Palau, respectively, sources at travel agencies told CNA.

Palau Pacific Airways, meanwhile, will offer eight weekly round-trip flights between the two countries, the sources said.

When asked about the issue on Sunday, two officials at Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) — deputy head Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥) and spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) — said the CECC will be discussing the program in the next few days and will give more details afterwards.

Currently, travelers from Taiwan to Palau are required to quarantine for at least five days, while those arriving in Taiwan from the Pacific island country must quarantine for 14 days, according to Chuang.

Palau, one of Taiwan’s 15 diplomatic allies, has been free from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and has not had any confirmed cases to date, Chuang said.

When asked about the issue, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Sunday that Taiwan would welcome a visit by President Whipps when a “travel bubble” is established, but no date has yet been confirmed for such a trip.

“President Whipps has been strongly advocating for a ‘sterile corridor’ between the two countries since he was inaugurated,” while on the Taiwan side, government agencies and tourism industry stakeholders have held several meetings to come up with a practical plan, MOFA said.

Close communication between the two countries is required for the establishment of a travel bubble, as it requires clear guidelines on disease prevention measures on both sides, MOFA said.

According to Shin-Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital, which treats critically ill patients from Palau under an agreement with that country, the travel bubble would accommodate only group tours.

Participants would be allowed to travel only to pre-arranged destinations as a group and would have no individual free time, the hospital’s deputy superintendent Hung Tzu-jen (洪子仁) said Sunday.

Reports about a potential travel bubble between Taiwan and Palau first surfaced in October last year, but Palau decided not to relax its quarantine rules for Taiwanese travelers at the time, citing limited healthcare capacity.

(By Wang Shu-fen, Chang Ming-hsuan and Chiang Yi-ching)