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‘We can’t be a hermit nation’: Infectious disease expert backs select travel bubbles

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said last weekend that travel to Europe or the United States was unlikely in 2021 in the absence of a vaccine. However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged talks to open up travel were taking place with other low-risk nations in the Asia-Pacific, starting with New Zealand.

It is likely travel bubbles that are quarantine-free with countries such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea will start in 2021.

Collignon said “Japan, Korea, Singapore Taiwan, New Zealand and most of the Pacific” should considered in the discussions.

“At the moment those countries have low levels of community transmission. What that means for quarantining, maybe you do it home?” he said.

“I think we are in this bind for two to three more years, until we get a a vaccine that’s 90 per cent effective.”

The infectious diseases expert said setting different rules for different countries – as opposed to the current blanket quarantine requirement on all travellers from overseas – was sensible and would be essential for opening up travel bubbles.

People wearing face masks pack in a shopping arcade of Asakusa district in Tokyo Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

People wearing face masks pack in a shopping arcade of Asakusa district in Tokyo Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.Credit:Kyodo News

New South Wales, the ACT and the Northern Territory will re-open their borders to New Zealanders on Friday, October 16.

At the beginning of the month, Singapore opened its borders to travellers from Australia and Vietnam, who can now enter Singapore without having to undergo seven days in home quarantine.

On arrival in Singapore, Australians will take an immediate COVID test and quarantine for the approximately 48 hours it takes for the test result to come back. These arrangements were already in place for New Zealand and Brunei, which have similarly low transmission rates.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Japanese embassy thanked Morrison for flagging Japan for inclusion in future travel bubble arrangements and said the country had begun to allow business travellers to come to Japan, though with a 14-day quarantine period.

“Since many Japanese business people wish to enter Australia, we hope they will be allowed to come to Australia in the near future,” the spokesman said.

“At this stage it may be too early to comment in detail on the timing and the manner in which short-term business travel would resume without quarantine.”

Japan has detected 89,652 cases of coronavirus and reported 278 new cases on Monday. It’s seven-day average case count is about 500 cases.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment about a two-way travel bubble and referred to a recent meeting between the two country’s Foreign ministers, Marise Payne and Vivian Balakrishnan, which included discussion of “how both countries could work together to re-open borders in a safe and gradual manner”.

Singapore has reported 57,880 cases in total and just four on Monday, with only one in the community.

Negotiations between Australia and South Korea have begun but are not at an advanced stage. The South Korean embassy declined to comment. The country has reported 24,805 cases and reported 102 new infections, the first time in a week it had recorded cases in the three digits.

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