Two representatives from the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) arrived in Palau for a three-day inspection of Palau’s healthcare capacities on Wednesday, in order to scope out prospects for travel between Taiwan and Palau, says the Ministry of Health (MOH).

The delegation of two will be “on a fact-finding mission to gather intel in order to improve healthcare and potential travel opportunities”, the MOH said in a press release.

Due to the short duration of their visit, the two representatives will be allowed to forego the quarantine requirements, but have both tested negative for COVID prior to arrival and will be wearing masks and practicing social-distancing measures throughout their three-day visit.

The prospect of a travel bubble between Taiwan and Palau has been the subject of much debate throughout the pandemic, with Palau remaining COVID-free and Taiwan managing to keep its community-transmitted cases down to a minimum. Earlier plans to establish such a bubble have been postponed, allegedly due to the inability of Palau to relax its seven-day quarantine requirements for passengers from Taiwan.

However, President-elect Surangel Whipps Jr. has been extremely vocal about his desire to restart the tourism sector as soon as possible by creating a “sterile corridor” between the two nations. The President-elect allegedly wrote a letter proposing the concept to the Government of Taiwan, suggesting that Taiwanese tourists visiting Palau forego quarantine, while travelers from other destinations transiting through Taiwan could do the same, so long as they meet the quarantine and testing requirements in Taiwan first.

Ambassador of Palau in Taiwan Ms. Dilmei Olkeriil has said that she is hopeful a travel bubble between Taiwan and Palau will be established sometime this month, in order to promote both countries’ tourism sectors, says Taiwan News.

“Hopefully both countries will agree to do this bubble travel,” Ms. Olkeriil said in a statement on Radio Taiwan International.

Nevertheless, MOH representatives have continued to urge caution, stressing that vaccinations should take priority to opening Palau to international travel.

“I know there’s been some talk of a travel bubble with Taiwan . . . but for now, bottom line is we want to have as many people vaccinated [as possible] before we fully reopen our borders,” said Gaafar Uherbelau, the Emergency Operations Center Deputy Incident Commander of the MOH.

The Taiwan CDC has announced a total of 823 COVID cases in Taiwan, although the vast majority of these are border cases, caught in quarantine with no sign of community transmission. The number of local transmissions stands at 56, with the first community-transmitted case in eight months occurring in December, allegedly spread by a pilot from New Zealand who traveled in Taiwan while infectious.

Taiwan has been a historic partner of Palau in medical care, particularly throughout the pandemic. In April, Taiwan, in collaboration with Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital in Taipei, donated 1,000 COVID test kits, medical supplies and equipment to the MOH, as well as medical professionals who trained healthcare workers in Palau to use the equipment. Medical professionals from Taiwan have helped Palau to establish its current screening process for inbound travelers. 

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