Australia-Singapore travel bubble could be established within next week: PM Morrison

SYDNEY - Australia is in the final stages of concluding a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore that could be established within the next week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday (Oct 22).

The initial plan is to allow vaccinated students and business travellers to fly between the two countries, before opening up to tourists, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The newspaper said that the arrangement would also depend on the quarantine restrictions of individual states.

The state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, last week said it would allow the entry of fully vaccinated travellers from overseas from Nov 1 without the need for quarantine, although the easing of strict entry controls will initially benefit only citizens and permanent residents, according to Reuters.

Neighbouring Victoria state, home to Australia's second-largest city Melbourne, is set to announce a similar international travel policy to New South Wales (NSW), local media reported on Thursday evening.

"We anticipate that being able to be achieved within the next week or so, as we would open up to more visa class holders coming out of Singapore, we will see that occur," said Mr Morrison, as quoted by the Herald, referring to the travel bubble.

In a Facebook post on Friday morning, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he is "delighted to hear that Australia will be allowing entry to visa holders from Singapore", adding that he had encouraged Mr Morrison to do so when he visited Singapore in June.

"Singapore and Australia have robust economic and investment links, and warm people-to-people ties. Look forward to resuming close connectivity between our countries, as we move towards an endemic Covid-19 future," Mr Lee said.

On Friday morning, Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced that its flagship Airbus A380 will resume flying to Sydney from Dec 1, as the carrier increases its capacity to the Sydney market ahead of the Christmas holiday period.

SIA regional vice-president Louis Arul said that the return of the A380 to Sydney underlines the airline's unwavering commitment to the Australian market.

“Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the highly challenging and financially constrained operating environment, SIA invested heavily to ensure Australia remained connected to the world,” Mr Arul said.

SIA has operated almost 4,000 passenger flights to help bring close to 67,000 people to Australia, most of them Australians wanting to return home, said Mr Arul. The carrier has also flown 3,000 cargo-only flights to keep key trade channels open, allowing essential medical supplies, personal protection equipment and Covid-19 vaccines to be delivered.

“With the NSW and Australian border opening up from Nov 1, the A380 will support even more Australians hoping to reconnect with loved ones ahead of the Christmas period," Mr Arul said.

Meanwhile, Qantas Airways said it would speed up plans to restart flights to many destinations and upsize some planes amid "massive demand" for international flying as quarantine restrictions ease for Australian citizens.

All 11,000 of the airline's staff idled without pay, around half its workforce, will return to work by early December as domestic and international flying returns to more normal levels, the airline said on Friday.

Qantas will bring back two of its flagship Airbus A380 super-jumbos in April - three months earlier than planned - and is in talks with Boeing about the delivery of three new 787-9s in storage to accelerate its international flight plans, Reuters reported.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said for four of the last five weeks, the airline's international sales were stronger than domestic sales for the first time since the pandemic began.

"There is massive demand for Australians wanting to see their family and relatives," he told reporters.

"There is massive demand for loved ones wanting to get together for Christmas. There is demand for people wanting to take that holiday that they have been looking forward to for nearly two years."

Qantas said it would launch a new route from Sydney to Delhi on Dec 6 and bring forward plans for flights to Singapore, Fiji, Johannesburg, Bangkok and Phuket due to the New South Wales rule change.

Mr Joyce said the airline was also hopeful that Indonesia would relax quarantine rules for Australians, allowing its low-cost arm Jetstar to begin flights to Bali by Christmas.