Taiwan Carefully Opens Up Its Borders — but Only to This Country

The island nation of 24 million has only had 1,006 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths, thanks to early, well-enforced measures.

While most of the world has had to adjust to physical distancing and mask-wearing for the last year, Taiwan has been a rare exception, thanks to its quick and efficient response to the COVID-19 pandemic early last year. Now, the island nation is preparing to open its carefully monitored borders to tourists for the first time in a travel bubble with the archipelago nation of Palau, Taiwan officials announced last Wednesday.

The three-and-a-half-hour flights on China Airlines will start in April, with 110 tourists on each of two flights a week from Taiwan to Palau, Reuters reported.

Travelers cannot have left the country within the last six months, had COVID-19 in the last three months, or been asked to quarantine in the last two months, Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center's Chen Shih-Chung said at a conference, according to the Associated Press. They must also be tested before leaving and upon return, in addition to continuing to monitor their health in the five days after travel. Lastly, all travelers will need to visit as part of a sanctioned group tour.

Both countries have had relative success in containing the spread of the coronavirus. Taiwan, with a population of 24 million, has had 1,006 cases and 10 deaths, per data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Meanwhile, Palau has had none, according to the World Health Organization numbers, among its population of 18,000.

Taipei skyline with Taipei 101
Ratima Sritangwong/Getty Images

Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr. plans to visit Taiwan on March 28 to officially launch the bubble. The trip itself will mark the first time a head of state from a diplomatic ally has visited Taiwan since the start of the pandemic, according to a statement from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's office.

Last April, Taiwan did have a COVID-19 outbreak among sailors visiting Palau, though there wasn't confirmation on the source of the spread, Reuters reported.

Discussions have also begun to see if the same travel bubble model could be used with Singapore, AsiaOne reported. Taiwan started its first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine today, according to Reuters, while a domestically made vaccine could be ready by July.

Taiwan has been creatively working to fulfill travelers' itch throughout the pandemic, with Taipei's Songshan Airport launching pretend flights last summer and Eva Air offering flights to nowhere, even some for the purpose of speed dating.

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