A plan to create a travel bubble between Taiwan and Palau has been postponed because the Pacific ally decided not to relax quarantine rules for Taiwanese travelers, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday.
The postponement was made after Palau took into account its epidemic prevention capacity and that the northern hemisphere is entering winter, when COVID-19 infections could surge, said Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), who is the CECC’s spokesman.
Earlier in the day, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, said that due to limited medical care capacity in Palau, the country would still require Taiwanese visitors to undergo seven days of quarantine upon arrival.
The Ministry of Transportation and Communications, and related agencies are ready for a travel bubble, but Palau’s healthcare sector is worried that if an outbreak occurred following an opening, its limited resources would be unable to cope, Chen said.
The two countries had been holding talks on the possibility of forming a travel bubble to revive their tourism industries amid the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing each side to open its border for its citizens to travel to the other in tour groups.
As both sides’ populations are considered extremely low-risk in terms of COVID-19 infection, it was considered safe to create a travel bubble.
Under the plan, travelers would need to present negative polymerase chain reaction test results for COVID-19 before they would be allowed to join a travel group, the Tourism Bureau has said.
Visitors from Palau would not have to undergo a compulsory 14-day quarantine required from other travelers to Taiwan, and Taiwanese visiting Palau would not have to undergo seven days of quarantine, according to the proposed plan.
However, Chen, who spoke with reporters on the sidelines of the Global Health Forum in Taiwan, said that it would be difficult to proceed with the plan at this point.
Medical personnel in Palau are concerned over possible negative effects of the program and the country needs more time to look into whether it should open up to Taiwanese tourists, he said.
Palau has only one hospital, which does not have the ability to treat patients in a critical or emergency condition, Taipei-based Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital said.
Palau in 2008 signed an agreement with the Taipei hospital to send patients in a critical or emergency condition to Taiwan for treatment.
Palau has already relaxed its rules for Taiwanese visitors, because the nation is considered a low-risk country for COVID-19 infection.
People from moderate or high-risk countries must undergo 14 days of self-health management and test negative for COVID-19 before they are allowed to travel to Palau, Chen said.
Once there, they need to undergo testing up to three times to confirm that they are not infected, after which they can enter the country, he said.
Taiwan would start talks with other countries for possible travel bubble programs, but would carefully study the situation in those countries before pursuing such openings, Chen said.
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