Is it a bubble, if it never bubbles? The concept of travel bubbles, a term most of us must admit we’d never heard of before 2020, started with Australia and New Zealand. They may also end there, just without an actual bubble. The same could be said for Hong Kong and Singapore, and a variety of others.

As vaccine distribution hopes become realities, and risk factors retreat, there’s a fair chance that broad travel border openings may outpace long discussed bubbles. Yes, it’s possible a country will reopen to the world, before it manages to find a way to open to a nearby neighbor, despite a year of planning.

Hong Kong – Singapore

Hong Kong and Singapore were slated to open their long discussed ‘quarantine free’ travel bubble just weeks ago, but now plan to shelve any bubbles until January 2021 at the earliest. Any plans to actually begin quarantine free bubbles are contingent upon cases remaining below a threshold Hong Kong is yet to reach, and for that threshold to remain for at least two weeks.

Basically, it’s unlike to happen any time soon, given the lead times, and Hong Kong reporting more than 80 cases per day, to this very day. If that number seems low compared to Western daily case figures, it is, but that’s not the point.

Pivoting away from Hong Kong plans, Singapore plans to reopen to business visitors from all over the globe, but isolate them to a ‘Disney World’ style facility of sorts, where any conversations with locals would take place behind a glass wall, and no access to the city will be granted.

Much like talk of bubbles, it will be interesting to see whether vaccine emergence, and safe options to reintroduce restriction free travel outpace demand for this sterile idea.

Australia & New Zealand Bubble?

Australia and New Zealand face a similar challenge. First flights in the trans-Tasman travel bubble were expected on October 16th, but the bubble never reached its full potential. New Zealanders were welcomed into Australia without quarantine, but it never worked the other way around.

New Zealand is now back throwing support behind the trans-Tasman travel bubble plan, but it’s hard to say whether it’s posturing, or actual hope of a bubble coming into its own. For New Zealand to stamp approval on an actual ‘quarantine free’ go ahead, Jacinda Ardern, PM of New Zealand expects 28 days without community transmission in Australia.

With steadfast warnings that a single case could burst the bubble instantly, travel bubbles are hardly something dependable to trade on. Travelers need lead time, and certainty before they’re willing to make a booking.

Government officials suggest the bubble could actually bubble up in the first quarter of 2021, but the question then becomes chicken or egg, vaccine or bubble? Many nations hope to have a significant portion of their populations vaccinated by the end of Q1 in 2021, and Australia and New Zealand both have significant orders in place.

Image by Pierre Blaché from Pixabay

Other Travel Bubbles?

Talks of a bubble between New York and London have fizzled, with lack of government cooperation across the Atlantic. The UK has since reduced quarantine times for all US visitors, but the US still has a blanket ban on most visitors from Europe.

Japan expects to open to all visitors bearing negative covid-19 tests in time for the 2020, now 2021 Summer Olympic Games, and many plans for travel corridors have been shelved in the interim.

Most countries are opting for pre-flight testing which welcomes all visitors, provided they test negative for covid-19 prior to departure. The strategy doesn’t eliminate 100% of risk, but real data shows fewer than 1 in 1,000 people slip through the cracks, with a negative test taken within 3 days of departure, on average.

For countries pursuing eradication, that’s just not good enough, but if a traveler is able to prove both vaccination and a negative covid-19 test, why wouldn’t a country open broadly to all visitors ticking those boxes, once a domestic population reaches a safe threshold?

It might be a lot easier to regulate than an unchecked bubble between two countries, which could be terminated at will. Like many industries, uncertainty is not a good word in travel, and bubbles rely on too many variables for success.

Vaccines and Protocols, Or Bubbles?

Obviously, a travel bubble could emerge before a meaningful vaccination critical mass occurs. But if optimism around vaccine rollout is to be believed, as it appears it should be, the race to see whether a country reopens broadly to all visitors, or opens a travel bubble with a singular nearby neighbor, isn’t as ridiculous as you may think.

It’s not Usain Bolt versusTalk of travel bubbles really cool just be hot air.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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