Written by Marlysa Razak and Ian Phua

Introduction

The Covid-19 pandemic has become the main concern across the globe. As a result, the governments of respected countries have no choice but to declare lockdowns and border closures. As many are aware, the Malaysian government declared the Movement Control Order (MCO) on 18.03.2020, the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) on 04.05.2020 and the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) on 09.06.2020 with a strict on-going border closure. These orders have drastically affected the tourism industry by reasons of travel restrictions being imposed such as banning travels in/out of the country and/or banning interstate travels within the country. That being said, some countries are exploring possible limited opening of borders, only to certain countries particularly their close neighbouring countries and their friendly trading countries. This exercise and effort is now known as “Travel Bubble”. 

Travel bubbles are agreed common travel areas between regions or countries where movement of people is only allowed within certain areas or to/from two or more countries. It can be illustrated as a limited playground area where people are allowed to roam around and the movement shall not cross beyond the wall of the playground. This means that countries in a “travel bubble” agree to open up their borders to each other, allowing free movement within the bubble and keeping the others out of reach.  “Travel bubble” has been commonly regarded as travel bridges or corona corridors and is now seen as a possible long term solution during the Covid-19 era. The whole idea is to allow additional freedom without causing any more harm where people agree to expand their quarantine zone to include people they consider safe.

Travel bubble as an exclusive partnership between neighbouring countries requires a lot of trust and faith to be established. The easiest time to form a bubble “is when two countries have no more cases” and thus, very low risk in allowing travelers from the other country. Of course, zero transmitted cases are unlikely to be achieved at this point in the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean low-risk travel has to wait. A travel bubble would work if neighbouring countries have a similar/close number of cases and respond in the same way to the pandemic in terms of widespread testing, contact tracing and effective quarantining. 

A travel bubble would help both countries’ flagging tourism industries and it would entail business recoveries across multiple sectors. Chris Roberts, the Chief Executive Officer of New Zealand’s Tourist Board Tourism Industry Aotearoa states that if the correct health safeguards are followed and the technology is in place, travel bubbles could be an effective means to opening up the country and could serve as a model for other countries to follow. 

Note: not an exhaustive list. This section will continually be updated as more travel bubbles are confirmed.

 

Australia – New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand are in serious talks in setting up the much-needed travel bubble as soon as possible. Both administrations have set the groundwork for the soon to be established travel bubble as early as September 2020.

Austria – Germany

Fully reopen its borders by June 15, 2020 allowing business and leisure trips to be made between said countries. Austria is also planning on expanding its travel sphere to eventually include Switzerland, Liechtenstein and “neighbouring eastern European countries.”

China – South Korea

As Australia and New Zealand continue their talks, China and South Korea have implemented their own travel bubble since May 2020. The tightly controlled travel bubble applies only to selected cities in both countries which includes Seoul to Shanghai. China’s travel bubble appears to be expanding as there are plans of integrating Taiwan, Hong Kong and even Macau into the safe zone.

China – Singapore

The two Asian countries are in talks to create their own travel bubble for businesspeople and officials. Initial discussion seems to reveal a still-complex procedure that involves swab tests before departure on arrival, pre-approved itineraries and a “SafeTravel Pass”, and usage of the host country’s contact tracing app.

Limited number of passengers from Singapore and 6 Chinese cities—Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang will be able to travel between the two countries without spending any quarantine period. Currently, there is a 14-day quarantine period for travellers from both countries.

Malaysia

On 26.06.2020, the Government of Malaysia made a statement that a travel bubble with Singapore and other ASEAN countries is being considered. To date, there are no confirmations on the same.  

 

Malaysia is in talks with Singapore and Brunei to create “green lanes” for less restricted travel

Malaysia has recorded a total of 8,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and 121 deaths as of 26.06.2020, while Singapore has more than 42,000 confirmed cases and 26 deaths. As at 10.08.2020, Malaysia and Singapore have commenced the application for the Reciprocal Green Lanes and travels will begin on 17.08.2020. The two countries are in the midst of discussing the guidelines and have approached Australia and New Zealand too. “This is in planning but we have not allowed any country yet,” as announced by the Director-General of Health, Dato’ Seri Dr. Noor Hisham bin Abdullah on 26 Jun 2020. “It must be mutual, some issues must be ironed out by both countries before we can allow the green lane or green bubble.”

“If we can handle the pandemic as soon as possible, then the economy can actually continue and livelihoods can continue,” Dato’ Seri Dr. Noor Hisham bin Abdullah said. As such, if the pandemic is under control, and with the establishment of travel bubbles in between countries, it means that trades and businesses can resume and facilitate the boost to the economy. Thus, the people can continue to do businesses to ensure sustainability and survivability.

Are we bound by the World Health Organisation (“WHO”) Constitution and Regulation?

Every State has the obligation to inform the WHO of anomalous situations that have occurred in their territories related to human health in 24 hours. Article 7 of the International Health Regulations 2005 (“IHR”) provides that “If a State Party has evidence of an unexpected or unusual public health event within its territory, irrespective of origin or source, which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern, it shall provide to WHO all relevant public health information.

There is a possibility that a State would be held accountable for the various issues related to the pandemic if proven that the State has not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Therefore, a violation of the 2005 WHO International Health Regulations and/or the WHO Constitution itself might open the door to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

The WHO Constitution provides for recourse to the International Court of Justice as provided in Article 75 of the WHO Constitution:

“Any question or dispute concerning the interpretation or application of this Constitution which is not settled by negotiation or by the Health Assembly shall be referred to the International Court of Justice in conformity with the Statute of the Court, unless the parties concerned agree on another mode of settlement”.

According to a few experts and activists in the United States, the concept of the travel bubble might be seen as unconstitutional under the U.S Constitutional principles because of its discriminatory nature and is against equality to different nations or nationalities.

Conclusion

In short, although the travel bubble is not the perfect solution now, it is undoubtedly a step towards the right direction. For now, these travel bubbles have proven to be an alternative for those looking to get their economies back on track. For us travelers, travel bubbles are giving us hope that we may soon be able to once again explore the world. So, we could Just Travel!

References:

  1. Five Things to Know About Travel Bubbles

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/five-things-know-about-travel-bubbles-180974983/

  1. What is a Travel Bubble? Here’s Everything You Need to Know About the Buzzy New Term in Travel

https://blog.wego.com/whats-a-travel-bubble/

  1. Malaysia Plans Travel Bubbles With Singapore and Brunei

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-26/malaysia-plans-travel-bubbles-with-singapore-and-brunei

  1. Travel bubbles can be catalyst to restart international travel

https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/travel-bubbles-can-be-catalyst-restart-international-travel

  1. Malaysia begins talks with neighbours on ‘travel bubble’

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/06/20/malaysia-begins-talks-with-neighbours-on-travel-bubble/

  1. Malaysia discussing travel bubbles known as ‘green lanes’ with Singapore and Brunei

https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/3090726/malaysia-discussing-travel-bubbles-known-green-lanes

  1. State Responsibility and COVID-19: Bringing China to the International Court of Justice?

https://internationallaw.blog/2020/05/15/state-responsibility-and-covid-19-bringing-china-to-the-international-court-of-justice/

 

Published on 12 August 2020


Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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