Hong Kong has put Australia on its shortlist for a possible travel bubble, despite lingering uncertainty about when Australians will be able to travel abroad.
The region’s government said it had reached out to Australia and 10 other countries — Japan, Thailand, South Korea, New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, France, Switzerland, Germany and Singapore — to discuss the possibility of a travel bubble arrangement.
Hong Kong Commerce Minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said the travel arrangements would require travellers to be tested at both ends of their trip, the South China Morning Post reported.
Bilateral talks have only been struck up with Japan and Thailand so far.
“These are places with which we have made initial contact, but whether travel bubbles can be established … would depend on a host of factors, including the epidemic situation and its containment in respective places,” Mr Yau said.
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“These countries involve those (who have their) situation under better control, it also includes some places (where) there is strong mutual (travel) interest.”
He warned the arrangement would only go ahead with “no compromise on any sort of risk”.
“If for instance, at the very last moment, even when things are ready, but if health authorities have reservations on lifting the ban, I think we would of course err on the safe side,” he said.
Mr Yau said there was no time frame for establishing travel bubbles but priority may be given to business travellers.
“It all depends on how ready and comfortable both parties are with the situation,” he said.
“It is also a matter of whether we can agree on the protocol – including a pre-boarding test which must be mutually recognised by the respective health authorities, a double insurance by having, upon arrival, port health checking, plus any additional measures. These are the issues we need to discuss.”
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Hong Kong reported just six new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including three cases of local transmission. It is the lowest number of daily new cases since five were reported on July 3.
With daily case numbers remaining low, the city will relax limits on public gatherings, reopen sports facilities and increase visitor caps on restaurants on Friday.
The news comes days after Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia’s travel ban would be extended another three months, to December 17.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said it was “unlikely” our international borders would open by Christmas, casting further doubt on the previously hyped quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand, which now looks more like a 2021 proposition.
At a press conference on Friday, Mr Morrison said while it might be possible for New Zealanders to come to Australia, it wouldn’t necessarily mean Australians going there.
“That will be up to the New Zealanders,” he said.
“But if we can get to a position where we understand how the hotspots can be identified in New Zealand, then that would mean, hopefully, between now and then (Christmas) we may well be in a position for New Zealanders to come to Australia and experience Australia, which will be great for our tourism industry.”