SEOUL - South Korea is hoping to expedite travel bubble talks with the likes of Singapore and Taiwan to allow quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated people from as early as July, as part of a national campaign to encourage mass vaccination.
The Transport Ministry said on Wednesday (June 9) that it is pushing to allow people who have taken two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to go on group tours to countries that have strong virus control measures in place and have been relatively successful in containing the pandemic.
Only 4.5 per cent of the population, or 2.32 million people, have been fully vaccinated since jabs were rolled out on Feb 26.
The ministry said talks are already under way with Singapore and Taiwan to sign a travel bubble agreement, and it will also reach out to other territories such as Guam, Saipan and Thailand to discuss reopening air travel.
The Straits Times has reached out to Singapore's Ministry of Transport for comment.
South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Wednesday that border restrictions have dealt a severe blow to the aviation and travel industry for too long, and many people are yearning to go overseas again.
"Resuming international travel will mark the beginning of life going back to normal," he said during a meeting.
The transport ministry said it is planning to allow only selected package tours in the first phase of the travel bubble programme, and those who sign up must stick to the itinerary instead of roam freely.
Travellers must also test for Covid-19 and submit negative test results three days before departure and test again upon arrival at their destination.
An official was cited as saying that the prospect of signing a travel bubble deal with Singapore, Guam or Saipan is higher as they have shown a lot of enthusiasm for such an agreement.
Singapore had planned to launch its first bilateral air travel bubble with Hong Kong last November but it was postponed twice due to spikes in Covid-19 cases.
Guam and Saipan, both United States territories, already allow visitors who received US-approved vaccines, such as Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen, to be exempted from a mandatory two-week quarantine.
Jeju Air, South Korea's largest budget airline, has resumed flights to Saipan in anticipation of a surge in travel demand.
The country reported 602 more cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the total to 145,692.
Some 9.2 million people, comprising 17.9 per cent of the population, have received their first shots of the Covid-19 vaccine as at Wednesday.
South Korea has been trying to accelerate its vaccination programme by dangling incentives such as allowing those who received at least one dose of the vaccine to roam outdoors without wearing a mask and have bigger family gatherings from July onwards.
Those who are fully vaccinated will be exempted from the current gathering ban of more than four people from July.
More incentives announced on Wednesday include cultural heritage promotions for people who received at least one dose of the vaccine, such as free tours at royal palaces and discounts on tickets to traditional performances.
An official said they prepared these deals to "encourage vaccinations and help those who have been vaccinated return to normal life".
South Korea hopes that more than 14 million people can get their first jabs by the end of the month and 36 million by September.
In order for the country to achieve herd immunity as planned, some 36 million people - 70 per cent of the population - must be fully vaccinated by November.