Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul is packed with travelers wearing masks. (Yonhap)
South Korea said on Wednesday it will accelerate travel bubble talks with the likes of Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand to allow quarantine-free package tours for those who are fully vaccinated from as early as July.
With only group tours allowed at the beginning, one or two flights will fly a week, carrying up to some 200 passengers once a travel bubble is formed, with plans to extend the scale of the travel scheme later, the Transport Ministry said.
The move comes as the government is set to announce new social distancing rules this month that will take effect starting July.
With the country hoping to reach herd immunity by November, travel bubbles are part of efforts to start bringing things back to normal.
“Movement between countries has been restricted for too long, dealing a severe blow to the aviation and travel industries with so many people wanting to travel abroad again,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a meeting Wednesday.
“Resuming international travel will mark the beginning of life going back to normal,” he said.
With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise in Taiwan, one official said the prospect of forming a travel bubble is higher with Singapore, Guam and Saipan, which have shown “great enthusiasm” for such a deal.
Though people who have got fully vaccinated in Korea are allowed to travel abroad and come back without facing quarantine, travel bubbles will give the same privilege to anyone vaccinated in travel bubble partner countries “regardless of their nationality,” another official at the Transport Ministry explained.
Following Wednesday’s announcement, online tour agency Interpark Tour unveiled international package tours in Europe on the same day and said it plans to roll out more packages.
Korean Air will monitor travel demand following travel bubble talks and consider increasing or resuming flights, one official at the airline said.
Hurr Hee-young, a professor at Korea Aerospace University, said the move is great news for the aviation and travel industries.
“Korea has been rather cautious about forming travel bubbles. But the mood has improved lately. It’s a move that will be welcomed by both the aviation and travel industries,” he said.
Travelers will be required to get tested and submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of departure and will have to have stayed in either Korea or a travel bubble country for the last two weeks.
Upon arrival in a destination country, they will be subject to another COVID-19 test.
With only certified package tours allowed in the first phase of the travel bubble scheme, those who will be traveling with travel agencies will be told to stick to the itinerary as opposed to independent travel.
In recent months, the world has seen several travel bubbles formed in regions across the world, including between Australia and New Zealand and between Singapore and Hong Kong. But both bubbles have been either postponed or paused following a spike in coronavirus cases.
By Yim hyun-su (firstname.lastname@example.org