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Palau President Whipps welcomes eased 'travel bubble' rules with Taiwan

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. 

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr.  (CNA photo)

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. said Wednesday (April 14) that he welcomed Taiwan's decision to ease the COVID-19 prevention regulations for Taiwanese returning home after visits to his country.

He was referring to an announcement by Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) earlier in the day that Taiwanese returning from Palau under the "travel bubble" arrangement will only have to follow self-health management protocols for 14 days.

The protocols include wearing a mask at all times outside their homes, checking their temperatures twice per day, and avoiding dining out and joining large gatherings, but they are allowed to take public transportation, according to the CECC.

"That's the best news we've heard all day," Whipps told CNA, after the CECC announced the revised regulations.

Previously, Taiwanese travelers had to adhere to "enhanced self-health management" rules for five days after returning from Palau, which included a ban on the use of public transportation and visits to crowded areas. They also had to keep a record of their daily activities and everyone with whom they came into contact.

After the five-day period, the returnees were required to follow regular self-health management rules for another nine days.

The CECC said the rules were relaxed because Palau's COVID-19 prevention measures have been very thorough.

In an interview with CNA, Whipps said the two governments are working with the private sector to continue to improve the travel bubble, while keeping everyone safe.

The CECC's relaxed rules will lead to more visits to Palau under the travel bubble, as the enhanced self-health management requirement was a hurdle for many, he said. Although demand for tours to Palau has been so low that China Airlines canceled its April 17 flight, Whipps said he was optimistic that the tourist numbers would grow.

"When you start anything new, you have to work through the problems," he said.

Once flight schedules are more stable and people have had time to plan their vacation, "it'll get better," he added.

At this time last year, there were zero tourists in Palau, and now there are around 200, which is the most important statistic, Whipps said.