As no vaccine is yet available against COVID-19, quarantine and self-isolation continue to be the most effective way to contain the spread of the virus. Almost all the countries in the world continue to enforce a state of lockdown. This has brought minor victories and the flattening of the curve in some countries. However, it is well-understood that this may not be feasible in the long run. Sooner or later, travel and movement of people will have to be allowed. One popular suggestion to ensure this movement without resulting in further COVID-19 cases has been the creation of a travel bubble.
These came into international attention after the announcement of the Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble, better known as the Australia-New Zealand Travel Bubble. The purpose of this “travel bubble”, as it has been referred, is to ensure that travel can resume with the assurance of the utmost safety of the travelers.
Needless to say, it wasn’t long until other countries started taking an interest in how a travel bubble might work. An unofficial race has begun to create and establish these travel bubbles in different regions. Whoever is successful could have a monumental advantage in terms of tourism in a post-COVID-19 world.
What Is A Travel Bubble?
A travel bubble is supposed to be a binding agreement between countries to enable the free travel of citizens between one another. Strict border controls, multitudes of tests of everyone traveling, and more importantly, ensuring that tourist locations are open to stimulating economic recovery are just some of the formalities that need to be addressed initially.
A travel bubble has been dubbed as the “most efficient tool available in the path towards short-term global economic recovery”. The need for a travel bubble is mainly economic as it would allow countries that rely on tourism to initiate some form of economic activity to support local business.
Several countries in the world have warmed up to the idea, while many others are still contemplating potential merits and demerits.
The European Travel Bubbles
Europe has borne the brunt of this virus for months. With the rate of infections still going strong, economic inactivity has started pressuring governments into addressing these issues.
The Baltics countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania just opened their borders, creating Europe’s first travel bubble. Starting from midnight on 16th May, the European Union (EU) citizens from all three countries can continue traveling freely within the travel bubble.
These countries have also eased restrictions on foreigners arriving in the countries as well. However, those coming from outside the travel bubble will have to stay in the mandated 14-day quarantine.
These three countries became the first to create a travel bubble since the EU went into complete lockdown in February. Officials from the EU have since encouraged countries to take steps to ease travel between countries.
The Baltic states’ actions have so far inspired Malta, Israel, Sweden, Germany, and even southern Italy’s Sicily to open discussions of another possible “travel bubble.” The common denominator in all these countries is their effective measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus within their populations. Sicily, as opposed to Northern Italy, has managed to keep the number of infected significantly low as well.
Sweden and Malta’s tourism ministers are already in discussions over how a travel bubble between the two islands would work. The idea is to allow free travel of thousands of tourists as well as locals that have been stuck in these countries for months. With the resumption of travel, local small businesses like cafes and bars will see some sort of improvement in their fortunes.
The Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble
Australia and New Zealand have received praise from all over the world about how they’ve handled the COVID-19 situation. Both countries had a similar response to the virus as they implemented one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, kept their populations updated on the situation, and most importantly, listened to its scientific community. With the total number of COVID-19 victims in double digits for both countries, it is safe to assume both countries feel vindicated.
The Trans-Tasman travel bubble is another one of these admirable efforts, albeit this one is about recovery from the economic devastation caused by the virus. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was invited to Australia’s cabinet meeting where she and her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison discussed the project in greater detail.
Both the leaders announced that the project would still take time, while the experts work out the finer minutiae in the background. Once implemented, it would open the international border between the two countries. People will be able to travel to and from both countries. The requisite requirements such as 14-day quarantine would still be intact.
Fiji, a closer neighbor of both countries, has shown enthusiasm about joining the travel bubble. How this New Zealand-Australia travel bubble experiment pens out could provide a blueprint for the rest of the world to follow.
Other Potential Bubbles
Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and even Mainland China have started discussions over possible travel bubble arrangements. Except for China, each of these countries was prompt in their response to the virus. Strict lockdowns and rigorous checks meant that even when the number of infected went up, mortality numbers were minimal.
On the other hand, China has repeatedly reported no significant increases in COVID-19 patients or a 2nd wave as of yet. President Xi Jinping went as far as visiting COVID-19’s epicenter, Wuhan, to signify the country’s claims of having overcome the virus.
An estimated 49 million tourism-related jobs are at risk in all these countries. There is an incentive, and a slight pressure on the governments to come up with initiatives like a travel bubble that would save these jobs. This would also help pave a foundation for the path towards a return to normalcy in a post-COVID-19 world.
For months there has been speculation on how the current state of lockdown in the world could be eased. Some wondered if it would ever be eased. A travel bubble has quickly become the first, and so far, the most efficient way to reopen the economy gradually.
A travel bubble ticks all the important boxes such as controlled movement, regulated monitoring of those traveling, and stimulating local businesses. This could serve as a potent way to reopen international tourism around the world.
Until better alternatives become available, it seems a travel bubble is likely to be the short-term future of all international travel. The success of countries that adopt this method could set a precedent for other countries to follow.