Prime Minister Scott Morrison has solidified his commitment to extend the current travel bubble to include Singapore, however said the opening of said bubble could be “some time” away.
PM Morrison has travelled to Singapore on his way to the UK for the upcoming G7 Summit, and met with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to discuss arrangements for an upcoming travel bubble between the two countries.
The Prime Minister said he is “committed” to seeing Singapore as the next addition to Australia’s restriction-free travel list “as soon as possible”, following the success of its arrangement with New Zealand.
However, both Australia and Singapore have recognised that a formal introduction of such a deal is still a few months off, as Singapore continues to stamp out a recent small outbreak of the virus, and Australia lags behind in its vaccine rollout.
“There is still some time before we reach that milestone,” PM Morrison said, “But there is nothing impeding us from getting on with the job of putting systems in place that will enable such a bubble to emerge.”
PM Lee also indicated the decision would hinge on Australia picking up steam in its COVID vaccination rollout.
He said that Australia’s current vaccination and transmission figures would both form “part of the consideration” for the start date of the bubble between the two nations, and that the bubble would open in a “safe and calibrated manner … when both sides are ready”.
Singapore has seen 44 per cent of its population receive at least one dose of the vaccine, with 33 per cent, almost 2 million people, fully vaccinated. In comparison, Australia has fully vaccinated just 2.6 per cent of its population, or 650,000 people.
“Once the majority of the population is vaccinated it becomes much easier for us to contemplate these openings up,” PM Lee said.
He noted the importance of reinstating the movement of people between the two nations.
“Before COVID-19 many Singaporeans travelled to Australia for business, holidays and to pursue their education,” Lee said.
“We need to resume these people-to-people flows to maintain our close and excellent bilateral relationship.”
Lee added that to facilitate a bi-lateral travel bubble, the two countries will need to “prepare the infrastructure” to make it a feasible option.
“This starts with mutual recognition of vaccination certificates, possibly in a digital form – very likely – and when all the preparations are ready we can start small with an air travel bubble to build confidence on both sides,” he said.
The leaders added that international students wishing to begin or resume their studies in Australia would be prioritised once the bubble opens, and could form part of a pilot program.
The opening of a bilateral restriction-free travel arrangement between Australia and Singapore was first touted in October 2020, however plans were put on pause as both countries battled against new clusters of the virus.
The news comes two weeks after PM Morrison also hinted that the existing trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand could be expanded to include the Pacific islands, including New Caledonia, Tahiti and the Cook Islands.
“We are very focused on supporting our Pacific family, and the idea of a bubble that goes beyond New Zealand and Australia is a real possibility,” PM Morrison said.
He acknowledged that Fiji, a popular destination for Australian tourists, was currently going through a “difficult time”, as it battles a recent outbreak following months of being COVID-free, however said that Australia was supporting the nation.
It is unclear when the expanded travel bubble could be introduced, or exactly what destinations would be included.