S'pore, S. Korea in talks on air travel bubble since March

Overseas arrivals undergoing quarantine procedures at South Korea's Incheon International Airport on May 21. Industry sources have named Singapore among potential partners for an air travel bubble with South Korea.
Overseas arrivals undergoing quarantine procedures at South Korea's Incheon International Airport on May 21. Industry sources have named Singapore among potential partners for an air travel bubble with South Korea. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Singapore is said to be one of the top choices for South Korea to launch a travel bubble with.

The Straits Times understands that the two countries started "very preliminary, exploratory talks at the working level" in March.

This came after South Korea's Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki said during a meeting that the government will seek to create travel bubbles with other countries in order to revive air travel, which was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A travel bubble is an agreement between two or more countries to allow their people to travel without a strict quarantine.

Several countries are being considered, according to a South Korean Health Ministry official.

Industry sources have named Singapore among potential partners that also include New Zealand, Taiwan, Guam and Saipan.

Singapore has ongoing air travel pass (ATP) agreements with China, Brunei, New Zealand and Australia, excluding the state of Victoria.

This means people from these countries are allowed to enter Singapore as short-term visitors after isolating for up to 48 hours upon arrival, while waiting for their Covid-19 test results.

The Republic had intended to launch its first bilateral air travel bubble with Hong Kong last November, but it was postponed twice due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, first in Hong Kong, and more recently in Singapore.

ATPs with Taiwan and Vietnam have been suspended.

Singapore, which is home to 5.69 million people, has so far reported 62,145 cases of Covid-19, with daily new cases in the past two weeks ranging from 18 to 45.

Meanwhile, South Korea has seen 142,157 cases among its 51.8 million population, with daily new figures in the 400-to-700 range.

More than one in three people in Singapore have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while in South Korea, about 13 per cent of the population have had at least one jab.

Singaporean Anges Ang, 34, is waiting anxiously to return to Seoul, where she had studied for four years before going home in May last year due to the pandemic.

She plans to launch a start-up in Seoul and needs to be there physically to register the company and settle some paperwork.

"Having a travel bubble will make travelling more convenient, whether it is for business or leisure," she told The Straits Times.

"But I think the name should be changed because bubbles burst too easily. Maybe we should call it an air travel loop because having a loop means it will keep on going."

Singaporean Elizabeth Toh, who until January was studying in South Korea, polled her friends and found that 18 of them would fly to Seoul under a travel bubble.

She said the consensus is that "everyone is dying to get out", but they are also concerned about safety and want to wait until the Covid-19 situation subsides in both countries.

However, Ms Toh, 32, said: "I don't think South Korea is ready for a travel bubble now.

"It may have painted the picture that it is doing okay but it is not... People get a shock when I tell them 600 cases is now the norm in South Korea."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2021, with the headline S'pore, S. Korea in talks on air travel bubble since March. Subscribe