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Asian holidays on the cards by winter as Australia looks to open other travel bubbles

Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung was asked in Singapore Parliament on Monday about plans for travel bubbles and mentioned Australia, New Zealand and Brunei as leading candidates.

“We are exploring with several countries and regions, including Australia, on the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates. The certificates can be physical or digital, and we will need them to be secure, tamper-proof and verifiable,” he said.

“However, vaccinations are only one aspect of pandemic control. Social distancing, contact tracing, quarantine and testing are also very important aspects which countries and regions have used to control the spread of [the] COVID-19 virus even as vaccines become available.”

Australians permitted by the government to leave the country can currently enter Singapore by having a negative COVID-19 test result in the 72 hours before departure and by isolating until they receive the result of another test upon arrival, typically within a day.

There were hopes within the Morrison government for Singapore to be a quarantine centre and vaccination hub for thousands of Australians returning from overseas but the Singapore government has said that is not part of the discussions.

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After Singapore, Australia is looking to establish quarantine-free travel with other Asian countries with low rates of COVID-19 from around August. It is also looking to secure agreements with Pacific nations, with sources saying Fiji would be a priority. Mainland China is also an option, despite diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

Mr Morrison is expected to fly to New Zealand within the month for in-person meetings with Ms Ardern.

Ms Ardern said specific flights into Australia could still be suspended if there were local outbreaks and conceded both countries retained the right to close borders at short notice.

The NZ government has devised a “traffic light” system that dictates the scenarios that could interrupt travel: continue (green), pause (orange) and suspend (red).

Flights would probably continue uninterrupted if a quarantine hotel worker case was diagnosed and contained quickly and all cases were linked, Ms Ardern said.

New Zealand’s traffic light system for quarantine-free travel.

New Zealand’s traffic light system for quarantine-free travel.Credit:New Zealand government

However, if there was a short lockdown in a state following a mystery case, such as the recent Brisbane outbreak, flights could be halted for up to 72 hours.

The NZ government would only suspend flights for more than 72 hours if there were multiple cases of unknown origin, Ms Ardern said.

Mr Morrison said he had a standing request that states and territories take proportionate responses to any future outbreaks in New Zealand, but any state border closures or controls were a matter for the state governments.

“From time to time, steps might have to be taken to protect both countries if there is a sizeable outbreak. I think that is just assumed as part of how we all live with COVID-19,” he said.

“We will continue to follow what I would call a proportionate response and I would encourage states to follow the same process. Increasingly, that is what we’re seeing this year.”

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