< ‘Bubble’ Cities Might Slowly Reopen Air Travel in Asia
By Mario Ritter Jr.
16 May 2020

Some Asian governments that have had a decreasing number of coronavirus cases are considering permitting travel to some cities.

Experts predict that "bubbles," where travel is permitted, will form while restrictions continue in places where infection numbers remain high.

The number of new cases of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, has eased in much of the Pacific area. Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, mainland China and Vietnam have reported low levels of infection in the past month.

Chinese tourists wearing facemasks arrive Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar on February 8, 2020. - The new coronavirus that emerged in a Chinese market at the end of last year has killed more than 700 people and spread around the world. (Photo by SONNY TUMBELAKA / AFP)
Chinese tourists wearing facemasks arrive Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar on February 8, 2020. - The new coronavirus that emerged in a Chinese market at the end of last year has killed more than 700 people and spread around the world. (Photo by SONNY TUMBELAKA / AFP)

In an effort to cut off the spread of the virus, many Asian governments have banned foreign nationals -- with a few exceptions. Local people and foreign permit holders must spend 14 days in quarantine after each entry.

Experts say so-called calling country-to-country bubbles could help the air travel and tourism industries. Trade related to travel has been hit hard since the coronavirus spread outside of China.

The industry group World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that as many as 49 million jobs related to travel are at risk in the Asia-Pacific area.

Rajiv Biswas is an Asia-Pacific economist for the company IHS Markit. He said, "It's very much an issue about how to reopen travel and not only for tourism but also for business, because business travelers also cannot travel."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have met to discuss the issue. Australian media reported that the two leaders talked about establishing a quarantine-free travel area for their countries.

Biswas said such a move could be a sign of things to come for other countries with low virus infection rates.

No other governments appear to have had official talks on the idea.

But Biswas suggests that Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China and Taiwan could be next to consider the idea.

A Hong Kong Executive Council member suggested this month that the territory could form a bubble with Macau.

Chiu Cheng-hsun is deputy director of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital near Taipei. He said Taiwan could consider opening travel from "low-risk" countries and not require visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Visitors could instead take their body temperatures each day and report any signs of health problems to travel agencies.

Chiu suggested that travelers from "moderate-risk" or "high-risk" countries could come back, too. These visitors would be required to quarantine for seven to 14 days.

"Taiwan can open up to accept international tourists, but it needs to manage them," Chiu said. He said the island should welcome everyone in an effort to help its economy.

A spokesperson for the foreign ministry suggested that any decision to reopen travel would come from the government's Central Epidemic Command Center.

Taiwan has not had locally spread cases of the virus in about one month. The island had a total of about 440 infections and seven deaths.

Also in the area, Vietnam has reported fewer than 300 infections and no deaths. Hong Kong has confirmed a little over 1,000 cases. Nearly all have recovered.

I'm Mario Ritter Jr.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOANEWS. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

quarantine –n. to be held for a period of time away from others to prevent the spread of an infectious disease

tourism –n. travel for the purpose of pleasure rather than business

manage –v. to supervise, to have control over something like business or work

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