Palau-Taiwan travel bubble to reopen 'as soon as practical'

In this photo taken on April 1, 2021, tourists from Taiwan get their temperature taken following their arrival in Koror, Palau. PHOTO: AFP

KOROR, PALAU (AFP) - A spike in Covid-19 cases in Taiwan has burst its travel bubble with Palau, but the small Pacific island nation's president said on Saturday (May 22) he was ready to reopen the link as soon as practical.

The Palau-Taiwan bubble was hailed as a "ray of light" when it opened on April 1 but was closed on Wednesday until at least the middle of June as Taiwan battles a coronavirus outbreak.

Although the two flights a week attracted fewer than 300 tourists from Taiwan in their seven-week existence, Palau President Surangel Whipps maintained it was a success.

"The purpose of the bubble was, of course, to help get our economy get back," he said.

"I believe it was a success because any tourist, more than one is a success."

Palau, a nation of about 18,000 people that lies some 1,000 kilometres east of the Philippines, is one of the few countries never to have recorded a Covid-19 case, but its economy was hard-hit over the 12 months its borders were closed by the pandemic.

"When they (Taiwan) move up to low risk again, then we go back to a travel, sterile corridor," Mr Whipps said.

He added opening the border meant there was always the risk of Covid-19 cases, but Palau's high vaccination rate - covering 93 per cent of the adult population - provided enough protection to reopen the border safely.

"We knew that going into it. We don't know what's going to happen with Covid tomorrow, we know that there will be a possibility that things will be shut down," he said.

"Our policy has always been, we open with care. When a country moves from low risk to high risk, then we go to quarantine."

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