While the proposed March 15th date of the opening of a Palau-Taiwan travel bubble has come and gone, President Surangel Whipps Jr. has said that Palau is ready to start receiving visitors, and Taiwan seems to be eyeing the beginning of April as a new date for this bubble to open.
President Whipps, in an interview with TVBS Media Inc. of Taiwan, said that talks between Palau and Taiwan have determined that tourists coming into Palau in the travel bubble will be staying most likely for around seven days before leaving, and that Palau will “continue to adapt” once it is deemed safe to extend that time. For now, the first tourists coming to Palau through this bubble will receive a PCR COVID test in Taiwan and a rapid antigen test in Palau, and once they are cleared for COVID they won’t need to undergo quarantine.
President Whipps also said that he and Taiwanese Ambassador Wallace Chow anticipate being on the first bubble flight to Taiwan to promote visits to Palau, and to show the people of Palau that “we have confidence that it’s a COVID-safe country”. The President also said that he hopes President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan will be able to visit Palau soon.
President Whipps said he hopes the bubble “demonstrates to the world how COVID-free or COVID-safe countries can start the tourism business in a safe way”.
In order to ease Palau back into receiving visitors, the President said that the first two weeks of the travel bubble will bring in two flights a week, each with a hundred passengers, and that after these two weeks they will likely extend the number of flights to four a week.
Travel agents in Taiwan are being given lists of hotels, restaurants, and tourism operators which are deemed “pandemic safe”, with the first of Palau’s businesses receiving their Pandemic Certifications within the past two weeks from the Bureau of Tourism (BOT). Those hotels, restaurants, and tour companies which are certified by the BOT will be allowed to host incoming tourists, while those that are not must first undergo training and meet spot-check requirements in order to do so. The BOT says that it hopes to conduct trainings for the retail sector as well in the near future in order to prepare stores and markets to safely accommodate visitors. Standards for tourism-related businesses which certify them to host tourists include having sanitizers and emergency equipment available as well as following hygienic and cleaning precautions, and preparing measures to implement in the event of a positive COVID case, such as social distancing measures.
The Ministry of Health (MOH), meanwhile, has started mass vaccinations of non-government frontliners, such as workers in the hotel and restaurant sectors. With over 20 percent of Palau’s adult population fully vaccinated, having received both doses of the Moderna vaccine, the MOH says that it hopes to start mass vaccinations for the general population before the end of the month. According to Mr. Gaafar Uherbelau of the MOH, the Ministry’s new goal is to fully vaccinate at least 70 percent of Palau’s population by the end of May and beginning of June.
Although Palau has not had to use them yet, the President says that isolation sites for anyone who tests positive for COVID have been ready for use for the past year.
In addition to reviving Palau’s tourism economy, the President said that the travel bubble will help with medical referrals to Taipei’s Shin Kong Memorial Hospital. Right now, many medical referral patients who are flown to Taiwan have to wait around a month before returning to Palau, and the President said that he hopes resumption of regular flights will help to shorten that time. He also said that the bubble will create a good opportunity for those in Palau who “have island fever” to get out and visit Taiwan.

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