Asia-Pacific countries are planning to introduce systems that will fast-track business travel procedures without endangering public health. Credit: Business Traveller.

Starting Monday, people from Singapore and six Chinese municipalities and provinces can make essential business or official trips without having to go through the required 14-day quarantine period.

This was made possible as governments in the Asia-Pacific region explore the creation of “travel bubbles” to spur essential business travel and help revive economies devastated by Covid-19, China Daily reported.

The Singapore-China fast lane agreement — which includes Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing and the provinces of Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang — is in line with Singapore’s plan to gradually reopen its borders to conduct essential business travel but “with the necessary safeguards in place to ensure public health considerations are addressed.”

Travelers must undergo testing before departure and obtain a health certificate showing that they tested negative for the novel coronavirus, China Daily reported.

They are required to submit an itinerary, and are barred from taking public transportation. They also have to undergo a swab test after landing and remain in isolation for two days.

Singapore is the second country in the region to develop such a travel fast track with China, China Daily reported.

On May 1, Republic of Korea and China opened a tightly controlled corridor between selected cities, including Seoul and Shanghai. Travelers are required to be tested and undergo two days of quarantine upon arrival.

Samsung Vice-Chairman Lee Jaeyong used this procedure in mid-May to visit the company’s factory in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China Daily reported.

Other Asia-Pacific countries are likewise planning to introduce systems that will fast-track business travel procedures without endangering public health. Japan is planning to ease entry restrictions for travelers from Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand.

Industry leaders in Australia and New Zealand are lobbying for a fast-track travel arrangement, which will allow people to move freely between the two nations.

“It’s very much an issue about how to reopen travel and not only for tourism but also for business, because business travelers also cannot travel, and the whole region is facing this issue that nobody can move from one country to another, so it’s definitely a key topic that countries are considering,” Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit, told VOA News

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said his government is planning to create such “travel bubbles” through bilateral agreements, China Daily reported.

Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, executive director of the Secretariat of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, said it is important to facilitate business travel as this will kick-start the economy.

Sta Maria told China Daily that the fast-track travel arrangements initiated by China, Singapore and South Korea are a “good start” for the Asia-Pacific economies.

“But developing ‘travel bubbles’ doesn’t happen overnight. Because at the end of the day, the most important thing is to ensure safety,” she said, recognizing that several protocols need to be established before they are launched.

Bubbles would show whether it’s safe for people to start moving around again and challenge countries to limit new coronavirus outbreaks, experts say. Governments would prepare to trace the contacts of people who came in sick from abroad to stop outbreaks in the larger population, VOA News reported.   

The International Air Transport Association expects global airline passenger revenue to fall by US$314 billion in 2020. Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region are expected to have the biggest revenue drop — US$113 billion —with passenger demand seen declining by 50%, China Daily reported.

Deutsche Bank said in a report in May that it usually takes two to three years for passenger numbers to return to pre-crisis levels. The Frankfurt-based investment bank said the coronavirus outbreak will mean long-term changes for business travel, and perhaps more caution in bookings.