TAIPEI - Over a year after closing its borders to tourists, Taiwan will launch its first travel bubble next month with the tiny Pacific nation of Palau.
"We are opening this travel bubble in hopes of boosting tourism and economic activities for both (sides) while preventing the spread of Covid-19," said Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung on Wednesday (March 17).
Palau's President Surangel Whipps will be visiting Taiwan on March 28 and will meet Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, said Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.
Palau is one of the 15 countries that formally recognise Taiwan's government. It has reported zero Covid-19 cases so far.
Taiwan first proposed a travel bubble to Palau last October, but the suggestion was rejected by Palau's government then as it was unsure of how to keep the coronavirus at bay with the arrival of foreign tourists.
Under the latest scheme, people from both sides will be allowed to travel in tour groups from April 1.
The travel bubble will kick off with two flights from China Airlines each week, with a limit of 110 passengers per flight.
Each traveller going to Taiwan from Palau will need to have negative Covid-19 test results ready three days before his or her trip.
Taiwanese travellers will be tested for Covid-19 at the airport prior to their departure, and may proceed on their trip after receiving negative results.
The groups can plan trips up to eight days. The travellers will follow a government-approved schedule, visiting only certain tourist sites and staying in approved hotels, all the while observing social distancing rules. Individuals are not allowed to leave the group and venture off alone.
In addition, Taiwanese who wish to travel to Palau under the bubble must have a clean track record: no travelling abroad in the past six months, no at-home isolation/quarantine in the past two months, and no Covid-19 diagnosis in the past three months.
Should there be a confirmed case in a travel group, the rest of the group will still be allowed to continue their sight-seeing while the confirmed case and those who came into close contact will be quarantined.
Since the outbreak, Taiwan has seen 990 cases, most of them imported, and 10 deaths.
Taiwan received its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines early this month, all 200,000 of them manufactured by AstraZeneca.
On Friday (March 19), Taiwan will announce a schedule for priority groups - primarily frontline medical workers - to receive vaccinations.