Australia-Singapore travel bubble could be established within next week: PM Morrison

The initial plan is to allow vaccinated students and business travellers to fly between the two countries, before opening up to tourists. PHOTOS: ST FILE, EPA-EFE

SYDNEY - Australia plans to set up a travel bubble with Singapore next week that is expected to allow quarantine-free flights to start from November.

Australia's Prime Minister, Mr Scott Morrison, confirmed the plan on Friday (Oct 22), indicating that the bubble for fully vaccinated travellers could be in place by Nov 23 and would initially apply to international students and business travellers.

Tourists could be allowed to enter from December.

"We are in the final stages of completing an arrangement with the Singapore government," Mr Morrison told reporters.

"We anticipate that being able to be achieved within the next week or so as we would open up to more visa class holders coming out of Singapore… We're opening up."

In a Facebook post on Friday, Singapore's Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, said he was delighted that Australia will allow entry to visa holders from Singapore, adding that he had encouraged Mr Morrison to do so when he visited Singapore in June.

"Singapore and Australia have robust economic and investment links, and warm people-to-people ties. Look forward to resuming close connectivity between our countries, as we move towards an endemic Covid-19 future," Mr Lee said.

Expressing Singapore's hope to work with Australia to progressively rebuild travel between both countries, Transport Minister S. Iswaran said on Facebook: "Hope to share more details soon."

Australia's two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, will allow quarantine-free entry to fully vaccinated international arrivals from Nov 1. Other major cities are yet to follow and passengers to Australia will need to be aware of potential restrictions on travelling from Sydney and Melbourne to other states.

Mr Morrison did not give a firm date for the start of the travel bubble but indicated the timetable would align with that of Qantas, the national carrier.

Qantas said on Friday that flights to Singapore will resume on Nov 23, with three A330 flights per week. Daily flights will resume from Dec 18. Qantas' low-cost subsidiary Jetstar will fly from Melbourne and Darwin to Singapore from Dec 16.

Singapore Airlines said on Friday that its Airbus A380 will resume flights to Sydney, with daily flights from Dec 1. These will fly alongside daily Boeing 777-300ER flights and Boeing 787-10 flights that run three times a week.

"With the NSW (New South Wales) and Australian border opening up from November 1, the A380 will support even more Australians hoping to reconnect with loved ones ahead of the Christmas period," said Singapore Airlines Regional Vice-President, Mr Louis Arul.

Mr Morrison said the travel bubble would complete arrangements that he discussed in June with Mr Lee. Those discussions occurred days before a major Covid-19 outbreak that sent Sydney and Melbourne into lengthy lockdowns, stymying Australia's plans to reboot international travel.

Since the start of the pandemic, Australia has maintained some of the world's most stringent travel restrictions, including bans on non-Australian residents entering the country and on Australian citizens leaving.

The border closure has had a devastating impact on Australia's travel and international education sectors, which are two of the country's largest exports.

In the 12 months to the end of June 2020, international education was worth A$40 billion (S$40.2 billion) and tourism was worth A$16 billion. Tourism revenue for the current year has plunged, while international education exports are believed to have fallen to about A$32 billion.

Australia has a quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand but it has been repeatedly suspended due to Covid-19 outbreaks.

Mr Morrison said: "I've always said that Singapore, together with New Zealand, would be the places that we would start. But, this will move, once it's proven to be successful, I think quite quickly."

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Meanwhile, Qantas is launching a new route from Sydney to Delhi on Dec 6 and is bringing forward a resumption of flights from Sydney to Fiji, Bangkok, Phuket and Johannesburg. The Federal Government is believed to be considering allowing further quarantine-free travel arrangements with these destinations.

Qantas' Chief Executive, Mr Alan Joyce, said demand had been massive as Australians emerged from lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne ahead of the Christmas holidays in December.

He said international sales had exceeded domestic sales for four of the past five weeks and the airline last Tuesday recorded its highest ever number of frequent flyer point travel redemptions.

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