Australia and Singapore will begin developing a framework for restarting travel between the two countries, but the first airline flights under the bubble arrangement are likely to be many months away.
A crucial point could be when most of the population in both countries are vaccinated – a milestone which Australia isn't expected to reach until the end of 2021 – although this doesn't rule out an earlier start of quarantine-free travel for those who've already been fully vaccinated.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison meet with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his way to the United Kingdom for the G7 Plus summit, and both PMs said a sensible first step was to work on mutual recognition of health and vaccination certificates to allow normal travel between the two countries to smoothly resume "as soon as possible."
"Singapore is the first country outside of New Zealand that Australia wishes to engage in travel with and we want to get it right," Morrison said.
His comments came as Australia’s international travel ban was formally extended to September 2021, marking 18 months since the country's borders were closed in March 2020.
One step at a time
As to when an Australia-Singapore bubble might appear, "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."
"What we want to do is to get the preconditions and infrastructure ready," Lee added.
"Then the actual decision to do it, that is a political decision. But let's get everything teed up so we are in a position to make the political decision."
Those politics, however, could hinge on both country's vaccination rollout, with Lee saying "once the majority of the population is vaccinated it becomes much easier for us to contemplate these openings up."
He stressed that any travel bubble would be opened only in a "safe and calibrated manner... when both sides are ready."
Singapore has fully vaccinated 1.9 million of its 5.5 million population, or 33%, while Australia lags at 650,000 people having received both jabs out of a population of 25 million, or just 2.6%.
"Neither of us have identified a benchmark rate on vaccination when it comes to the decision that would be taken around a travel bubble," Morrison elaborated. "But this is something that I think will continually be informed by the medical evidence as time goes on."
Singapore has already adopted the Travel Pass app developed by the International Air Transport Association and trialled by more than 20 airlines as a standardised way to record and share the results of COVID-19 tests along with vaccination records.
The Australian government has also opened talks with IATA about using the Travel Pass – which Qantas is also trialling – as a 'vaccination passport' to help unlock overseas travel.
The Government is also considering a pilot program which would let fully-vaccinated Australians travel overseas from August.
The scheme could allow them to fly to selected countries, including low-risk destinations, and return without facing quarantine provided they show a negative COVID result on arrival.
It's suggested that the trial could be rolled out alongside the introduction of an 'amber' grading for less risky countries, which would sit between the current 'green' category which for now applies only to New Zealand, and 'red', which today is basically the rest of the world.
Travellers arriving from 'amber' countries would face far less stringent quarantine rules.