Travel bubbles: Here’s what they might mean for your future trips
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Travel bubbles. Green zones. Air bridges. Green lanes. You might be hearing much more about all of these in the weeks and months to come.
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We first heard the terms when writing our in-depth country-by-country guide to reopening travel in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. These are essentially agreements between countries believed to have controlled the spread of COVID-19. They go by different names, but all allow travel — essential or otherwise — across otherwise closed borders, often without long quarantines and other major restrictions.
Most recently, Singapore said it would begin allowing certain “high-value” visitors from countries around the world beginning in January. Those visitors, according to Reuters, would be kept in small groups, or bubbles, making it one of the first nations to attempt a travel bubble that isn’t limited to certain countries.
And in Oceania, a long-awaited travel bubble is finally set to begin between Australia and New Zealand in early 2021.
So, what countries are attempting travel bubbles and how could they affect your future trips? Here’s what we know so far.
Asia travel bubbles
Singapore announced this week it will start a new program in late January 2021 that will allow so-called “high-value” travelers from most countries to come to the island nation. The program seems to be intended mostly for business travelers, company executives and diplomats.
Travelers will be confined to designated luxury hotels, but may be able to meet in groups of up to five people at what Reuters calls “segregated facilities.” Meetings will be allowed, but only in rooms with floor-to-ceiling, air-tight glass panel dividers. Meals will be dropped off outside visitors’ rooms. Travelers in this bubble will also be required to carry contact-tracing devices and will be tested regularly.
The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) that is usually held in Davos, Switzerland, is being moved to Singapore in May of this year. These Singapore bubbles are preparation for the forum, so it may be able to go on as scheduled.
In China, a planned bubble connecting the republic to Hong Kong has been delayed until 2021 after new outbreaks in Hong Kong. But a bubble between China and South Korea exclusively for business travelers was among one of the first to open, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Beginning as early as May, both countries began allowing fast-track immigration in so-called green lanes between the two nations, with South Korean business travelers to visit certain regions in China and the cities of Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing. Health screenings are mandatory and a quarantine period is still part of the process. Travelers need to quarantine at a government-run facility for one to two days. Testing for COVID-19 is also mandatory.
China has reportedly also had talks on allowing essential business travel with Austria, Germany, Singapore and at least 10 other nations. Japan is also in talks to join the group.
New Zealand and Australia
New Zealand and Australia were among the first to announce plans for a “Tasman travel bubble.” On Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, the two nations agreed to allow travel between the countries beginning in the first quarter of 2021.
It will allow quarantine-free travel for citizens of the neighboring nations who are not sick.
Fiji and other Pacific Island nations have also suggested they are open to joining in any expanded trans-Tasman bubble.
Australia and New Zealand are also involved in discussions for a larger “trade bubble” that would allow for essential business travel between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea and Singapore.
In fact, trade ministers from Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have agreed to allow travel “on an exceptional basis” for essential businesses.
In the U.K., which has its own quarantine requirements for international arrivals, business leaders are demanding the use of so-called sky bridges to allow international visitors from countries with low infection rates into the country without that mandatory quarantine.
In fact, there could be a travel bubble for business travelers between London and New York at some point.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news and said the “growing availability of COVID-19 tests in the U.S.” might eventually allow for “shortened traveler quarantine periods” for travel between the financial capitals. The Journal was hopeful there would be a travel corridor approved by the end of 2020, but that appears increasingly unlikely.
Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian poured a bit of cold water on the idea, telling the U.K.’s Financial Times newspaper, “I think New York [to] London is complicated.” Bastian suggested it would be easier to almost any other European capital.
In addition, U.K. citizens are currently barred from entering the U.S. if they’ve spent time in the U.K. within the last 14 days. That ban would likely need to be lifted if the corridor between London and New York City was put into place.
In May, the people of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were allowed to travel freely between the neighboring nations, making the “Baltic bubble” the first of its kind in the European Union. But in September, a spike in coronavirus cases in Estonia forced Latvia to implement new restrictions, and Estonians were asked to start self-quarantining for 14 days upon arrival. The step backward underscores just how delicate these travel bubbles are.
Germany reopened its borders with some neighbors on June 15, while the Czech Republic opened its borders to Austria and Slovakia. Croatia is allowing quarantine-free travel within its own bubble with Slovenia, too.
What about Americans?
Unfortunately, the United States has still not been welcomed into any travel bubble, as it currently has the most coronavirus cases and deaths of any country on Earth. Even Canada isn’t welcoming Americans at the moment. But with the arrival of promising new vaccines, travel bubbles could very well be the next step toward resuming international travel.
Featured photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.
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