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Singapore-Australia travel bubble could be launched by summer

Australia’s minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan has said that Singapore has “expressed an interest” in creating a travel bubble that could allow for movement between the two countries.

Travel BubblePrior to the pandemic Changi Airport was one of the busiest in the world. Photo: Unsplash

International student HE enrolments dropped 35% in July-November 2020

“It would be great if we could extend the bubble between New Zealand, Singapore and Australia,” he said in a recent interview, referring also to the travel arrangements that allow travellers from Aotearoa to enter Australia.

“They’re interested to work on that. I’m hoping to have further discussions when I travel to Singapore in the next couple of months.

“I’m hoping to have further discussions when I travel to Singapore in the next couple of months”

“If we can continue to get the vaccine rollout right here in Australia, they continue to do what they’re doing so well there with their vaccine rollout in Singapore, I’m optimistic that we might be able to get something up and running by the middle of the year.”

While this may be good news for the around 8,000 Singaporeans that study in Australia annually, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did however deny widely circulated claims that the country could be used as a “quarantine hub” for those wishing to enter Australia from third countries.

This means it is unlikely international students could first enter Singapore – whose borders are closed to the vast majority of visitor categories – and then travel on to Australia.

“Singapore is currently in discussions with Australia on the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates and resumption of travel with priority for students and business travellers,” said an MFA spokesperson.

“We are also discussing the possibility of an air travel bubble which will allow residents of Singapore and Australia to travel between both countries without the need for quarantine.

“We are not in discussion on the concept of a quarantine centre or vaccination hub”

“We are not in discussion on the concept of a quarantine centre or vaccination hub.”

In the same interview, Tehan further suggested that Australia’s policy for opening up its borders going forward would be based on the creation of bilateral bubbles.

“Very much in the first instance, what we’re looking at is to see whether we can get that travel bubble up and going, if we could, with New Zealand and Singapore,” he said.

“Then we look at other destinations which are safe, as well, and one of the keys to this is going, making sure that we can get that vaccine passport validated – we know that it will stand up to integrity – and if we can get that up and running, as well, hopefully then we will see the expansion of these travel bubbles.

“But, that’s the dream come true, to be able to get to the stage where we’re able to validate the people who’ve had the vaccine, and then not have that two weeks quarantine. We’re not there yet, but that would be a great outcome if we could get there.”

The launch of vaccine passports as a means of allowing travel has been floated as far afield as the EU and China in recent weeks, although serious questions remain around international standardisation, security, ethics and legal issues. A petition in the UK against vaccine passports has received almost 300,000 signatures.

The EU is looking at using such a passport to facilitate movement around Europe but will only recognise the EMA-approved jabs Pfizer/BioNtech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson&Johnson, which has angered countries such as Serbia that have also offered their citizens China’s Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines.

The Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in the HKSAR also recently announced that the entry requirements for Mainland China for some visa categories have been reduced to pre-pandemic levels for those with a vaccine – but only if that vaccine was produced in China.

Basing entry into countries on obtaining vaccines approved by the destination country could further hamper international student efforts to return to studying given the uneven availability of vaccines globally and variations in which vaccine is administered.

Students will also find themselves in low priority categories for receiving vaccinations as most countries focus on rollout to the elderly and those most at risk.

With international students unable to return to Australia, the country has as a result seen a substantial decline in enrolments. According to Australia’s Department of Education, international student HE enrolments dropped 35% in July-November 2020, with those from India alone decreasing by 80%.

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