Travel Agent NewsAs countries talk up travel bubbles, some urge caution.

Don’t be in a rush: Travel corridors are a two-way street

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While clients are ready to travel soon as soon as restrictions are lifted, quarantine back on arrive in the home country and travel insurance remain a concern for many travellers, say agents.
While clients are ready to travel soon as soon as restrictions are lifted, quarantine back on arrive in the home country and travel insurance remain a concern for many travellers, say agents. Photo Credit: Getty Images/babyrhino

On 12 April an Emirates A380 will take to the skies over the United Arab Emirates carrying a fully Covid-19 vaccinated crew as well as a fully vaccinated group of passengers.

It will be a largely symbolic gesture. The two and a half hour flight across the emirates is intended to show the world how well the UAE has handled its Covid-19 vaccination programme.

"Our risk tolerance will change over the second half of this year."– Brendan Murphy, Australian Government Department of Health

Emirates – like all other airlines – is desperate to get its entire fleet back in the air but that will only happen across international borders when every passenger on a flight is confident that all others in the cabin have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Figures published by The Age newspaper in Australia show that, as of 29 March, 5.3% (310,000) of the population in Singapore had been fully vaccinated — a figure which is ahead of most other countries. On a 5 April parliament session, Janil Puthucheary, Singapore's senior minister of state for health updated that the number had gone up to more than 468,000.

Based on the same date in The Age's report, Australia reported 2.1% (541,761) of the population had been vaccinated while in India 0.64% (8.9 million) had been fully vaccinated by 29 March.

India’s robust vaccination programme, which prioritises senior citizens, is already encouraging older travellers to move around the country.

“We hope seniors will pave the way to recovery of the travel sector,” said Gaurav Kumar of Delhi-based Phutt Travel, which specialises in travel for the over-45s.

In Thailand, where only 0.01% (5,862) of the population had been fully vaccinated by 29 March, the government is keen to allow foreign travellers back into the country. Quarantine requirements have been reduced to seven days for international arrivals who have been fully vaccinated — and there's more good news.

From 1 July, Phuket will welcome fully vaccinated international travellers with no quarantine requirement, a move backed up by the chance for visitors to travel domestically beyond Phuket subject to using a government managed tracking app.

And from 1 October, five more destinations in Thailand — Krabi, Samui, Pattaya, Phang Nga and Chiang Mai — will allow visitors to enter without quarantine.

Which begs the question — will countries allow their citizens to travel to Phuket if the island’s population hasn’t been fully vaccinated?

Unlikely.

The same question hangs over travel bubbles. While Singapore and Australia have been chatting about bubbles, both sides will want to be sure that their citizens will be delivered to a Covid-safe destination.

And the citizens themselves will want to be sure that they will be able to return from their travels and not be subject to quarantine at home.

Singapore health minister Gan Kim Yong remains cautious about the widespread opening of borders.

"Eventually, after a year or two years, when almost all countries are able to bring the pandemic under control... then we may be able to have multilateral global travel arrangements. But it's a long way off," he said.

Elsewhere in the UK, the British government has indicated that foreign holidays could be on the cards to “green list” countries from 17 May, although Britons returning from them will have to undergo at least two Covid tests to prove they are clear of the virus.

Australia’s federal health department secretary Brendan Murphy said he's hopeful international travel will be possible in 2022.

"As we get more and more Australians vaccinated, and as more and more countries around the world get vaccinated, we will start to progressively look at what sort of border and quarantine measures we have to do," Murphy told Sky News.

"We might think about, for example, reducing the length of quarantine, or more home quarantine, particularly for vaccinated people. Our risk tolerance will change over the second half of this year.”

A mass vaccination programme in Bali — Sleeve’s Up — targeting the hospitality sector in Ubud, Nusa Dua and Sanur is seen locally as a step towards reopening the island to foreign tourism by the middle of this year.

Indonesian officials are also proposing a “travel corridor arrangement” with countries deemed successful in containing the spread of the coronavirus and have high vaccination rates. Singapore is top on that list.

Sue Brownley, manager of Belmore Travel in Melbourne said her business has clients ready to travel as soon as restrictions are lifted, while other clients are fearful of travelling even beyond their immediate neighbourhood.

“Being locked up for such extended periods of time [in Melbourne] has now made them uncertain and uneasy of venturing out and about,” she added.

“Currently the fear is more that they will get up in the air and find out that they are going into quarantine back on arrival in their own country.”

Air New Zealand, in early April, reported domestic business travel had returned to 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

Ellen Hunt, communications manager for Flight Centre Travel in New Zealand, is hopeful that international travel will pick up quickly once restrictions ease but concedes that travel insurance is a concern for many travellers.

“VFR (visiting friends or relatives) travel will be first out of the gate; we already have a number of customers who have reserved flexible accommodation in advance to visit loved ones.

“There is some concern around potential lockdowns, which aren’t currently covered by any travel insurance policies, but Flight Centre’s insurance provider CoverMore does offer cover for most other Covid-19 related disruptions, including a customer or close contact contracting the virus.”

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