Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, have held talks on the conditions for a travel bubble.
Morrison declared he wanted the South-East Asian nation to be the next country for quarantine-free travel after New Zealand.
Both countries are likely still months away from any form of announcement, with Lee indicating it will only go ahead when the majority of people in both countries are vaccinated.
Singapore was Morrison’s first stop on his way to the United Kingdom for meetings with other world leaders at the G7 leaders’ summit, as well as trade and security talks in London and Paris.
Singapore has largely kept COVID-19 under control for the last nine months—despite a small surge in cases in recent weeks. The vaccine rollout now well under way, restrictions easing, and test kits ready to go on sale to the general public in pharmacies.
Morrison said Singapore had done a “tremendous” job in dealing with the virus and it was an appropriate time to open a travel bubble like the Australian-New Zealand bubble.
Still, both Morrison and Lee cautioned that no announcement was imminent.
“There is still some time before we reach that milestone,” Morrison said.
“But there is nothing impeding us from getting on with the job of putting systems in place that will enable such a bubble to emerge.”
Lee said the travel bubble would be opened in a “safe and calibrated manner” and only “when both sides are ready.”
“We need to resume these people to people flows to maintain our close and excellent bilateral relationship,” Lee said.
“We need to prepare the infrastructure and processes to get ready to do this.”
Happy to meet PM @ScottMorrisonMP in person today for the 6th Singapore-Australia Leaders’ Meeting. Australia has handled COVID-19 very well. We continue to cooperate in many areas, including in this pandemic fight. – LHL 🇸🇬🇦🇺 https://t.co/9vSZcELpjs pic.twitter.com/fNWu5rdU3n
— leehsienloong (@leehsienloong) June 10, 2021
Neither Morrison nor Lee made any announcements about what benchmarks would have to be met before opening the travel bubble. However, Lee said vaccination and transmission rates would be a largely considered.
He did not criticise Australia’s vaccine rollout, calling it “steady”. Nonetheless he indicated far more Australians would have to get vaccinated before Singapore would agree to go ahead.
Students from Singapore to get priority
Morrison said international students would be the first cohort of Singaporeans to come to Australia and said that should “occur sooner than later”.
Australian universities are eager for international students to return in person.
The higher education sector is estimated to have cut more than 17,000 jobs during the pandemic, according to data from Universities Australia, which also estimates $1.8billion in lost revenue in 2020. The sector is projected to lose a further $2billion in 2021.
A travel bubble was first proposed by Singapore in October 2020, but talks have been halted while Australia finalised quarantine-free travel with New Zealand and interstate travel.
In addition to the preliminary steps on the travel bubble, the two leaders signed a memorandum of understanding on health care and health technology.
They agreed to start talks on a “fin-tech bridge” and technology partnerships for reducing emissions in shipping and port operations.
A “green economy” agreement will also be negotiated, alongside greater collaboration on hydrogen and other low-emissions fuels.
Thank you PM Lee. While a brief visit, we got through a lot. The importance of ASEAN, regional security challenges, defence ties, working on a future travel bubble, our new hydrogen technology partnership, and a new FinTech bridge agreement. Hope to see you soon in Australia. https://t.co/SwVDLQj3bk
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) June 10, 2021
At the G7, Morrison will attend three sessions on health, the economy, and climate, and will also meet with US President Joe Biden, Japanese leader Yoshihide Suga, and Korea’s Moon Jae-in.
After the summit the Morrison will head to London to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.