Asia

Australia eyes year-end travel bubble with Singapore, envoy says

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) – Australia has a “firm commitment” to launch a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore, which is more likely to now occur by the end of the year due to Sydney’s coronavirus outbreak, Australia’s top diplomat to the city state said.

“There’s a very strong commitment for officials, both governments in Australia and here in Singapore, to progress the systems – the operational capabilities, the requirements – that will be necessary to ensure safe travel,” High Commissioner to Singapore Will Hodgman said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Juliette Saly on Tuesday (July 13).

“Given the outbreak in Australia, the unpredictability of this virus, it is more likely that travel will be possible towards the end of this calendar year.”

The statement comes after Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who is this week visiting Singapore as the first leg of an international trip to boost business and economic ties with nations including Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and the United States said in an interview published on Sunday that the travel corridor had been pushed back due to an outbreak of the delta variant that has put Australia’s most-populous city into lockdown.

Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26, and faces being increasingly isolated from the rest of the nation with authorities indicating the curbs may need to be extended beyond Friday.

The outbreak is highlighting the problems with Australia’s tardy vaccine roll-out, which has been hit by supply-chain hold-ups from contracted drug-makers. Political rivals also say that Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to secure enough doses from a wide-enough range of suppliers.

While Australia was an early success story in the fight against Covid-19, a sluggish vaccine rollout means even as the rest of the world opens up the country’s borders are expected to stay shut to most of the outside world until well into 2022.

Just 26 per cent of the population have received their first jab, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker, compared with about 70 per cent in Singapore.

Hodgman, who also served as the premier of Tasmania state for six years until 2020, also said in the interview that Australia viewed the Quad security partnership as having a “complementary” relationship with Asean.

Australia’s Morrison has increasingly encouraged the Quad, which includes key ally the US as well as Japan and India, to act as a counter against what it sees as China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. Australian exporters are increasingly concerned that Morrison’s government is making public statements that seem to be stoking tensions with Beijing, which has launched a volley of punitive trade actions that have hit commodities from coal to barley to lobsters and wine.

“It’s literally our region, so it’s important that Australia continues to have South-east Asia at the centre of our foreign policy which we do,” Hodgman said.

“The Quad is an arrangement of like-minded countries similarly inclined to ensure that trade is open and free, that international rules based orders are adhered to, and that our broader region remains stable and secure.”

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