Officials in South Korea said Wednesday that they hope to open travel bubbles this summer with nations like as Singapore and Thailand, as well as the US territory of Guam and Saipan.
According to a joint statement from the transport and tourism ministries, the government would suspend its required 14-day quarantine restrictions for foreign tour group travellers from countries “that have secured mutual trust on their capacity to prevent and control COVID-19,”
“This initiative is expected to trigger the resumption of international tourist flows in the transition period before forming herd immunity in connection with the rising vaccination rate in Korea,” the statement said.
During an inter-agency meeting on Wednesday, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the country would allow group tours to start “as early as July” for those who have been vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19 when entering and leaving the country.
After facing criticism earlier this year for getting its inoculation program off to a slow start, South Korea has seen its vaccination rates rapidly pick up over the past month.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, as of Wednesday, 9.2 million people have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, accounting for 17.9 percent of the population. According to the KDCA, 2.3 million individuals, or 4.5 percent of the population, have received complete vaccinations.
Health authorities hope to have up to 14 million individuals, or more than a quarter of South Korea’s 52 million people, receive their first vaccination by the end of this month, which is a larger amount than was previously planned. The government’s objective is to vaccinate 70% of the population by September and achieve herd immunity by November, though authorities have stated that these targets might be met sooner with speedier rollouts.
“I can say that every part of our inoculation plan — importing vaccines, scheduling shots and administering doses — is proceeding seamlessly, better than planned,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a speech on Monday.
The government is looking to open travel bubbles with Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Guam and Saipan, with “plans to elevate the discussion to reach agreement soon,” the ministry statement said.
“We hope the implementation of a safe and secure travel bubble initiative will serve as an opportunity to facilitate the recovery of Korea’s tourism and aviation industries post-COVID-19,” an unnamed official was quoted as saying in the statement.
South Korea saw international arrivals plummet by more than 85% last year, from around 17.5 million in 2019 to 2.5 million in 2020, according to data from the Korean Statistical Information Service.
On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department dropped its travel advisory status for South Korea to its lowest level, citing the low prevalence of COVID-19 cases in the country. The Level 1 travel advisory indicates that visitors should “exercise normal precautions.”
The KDCA reported 602 new COVID-19 instances in South Korea on Wednesday, bringing the overall caseload to 145,692.
Those who have gotten their first dosage of COVID-19 vaccination in South Korea have been freed from an eight-person limit on family gatherings and will be able to remove their masks outside beginning in July.