Everyone wants to go to Singapore. On that level at least, the recent meeting between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong was a stunning success.
It doesn't seem to matter that the language in their talk of a travel bubble between our two nations was extremely vague, and that no concrete commitments were given to any sort of timeline or list of necessities – still, Australians heard the call. On the airfare aggregator site Skyscanner last week, there was a 493 per cent increase in searches for flights from Australia to Singapore. The majority of those – 60 per cent – were looking for flights in September.
So, what gives? Will there really be a bubble with Singapore by then? In fact, will there really be a bubble with anyone by then, or even for the rest of this year?
Viewed with a cold, dispassionate eye, you would have to say: no.
Until the vast majority of Australians are vaccinated, which looks to be at least 12 months away, the only countries we're likely to have access to are those with very low COVID-19 numbers. So, Singapore, right? The island nation has an excellent record of suppressing the virus, it's already open to Australian travellers entering in what is effectively a one-way bubble, and both of our governments have expressed serious interest in a two-way arrangement.
However, some restrictions are still in place in Singapore after a recent COVID-19 outbreak, and at the joint meeting with Morrison last week, Lee Hsien Loong seemed to be talking long-term: "We need to prepare the infrastructure and processes to get ready to do this. It starts with mutual recognition of health and vaccination certificates, possibly in the digital form. When all the preparations are ready, we can start small with an air bubble to build confidence on both sides." A joint statement also mentioned "ongoing discussions" and a commitment to "resuming two-way cross-border travel when the public health situation in both countries permits". Doesn't exactly having you packing your bags.
Bubble chances: Unlikely for at least a few months
New Zealand has already started a travel bubble with the Cook Islands. Photo: Cook Islands Tourism
If not Singapore, maybe the Cooks? As mentioned, we need to look for countries with low COVID-19 numbers, and the Cook Islands has… none. No COVID. The Cook Islands is also already in a bubble arrangement with New Zealand, which means the infrastructure and the processes for furthering that bubble to Australia are already in place (if, as with pre-bubble times, all flights have to go through Auckland). This one seems like a no-brainer, and yet the Australian government's publicly stated position is that our next travel bubble will be with Singapore, which puts the Cooks on the backburner for months.
Bubble chances: Could be tomorrow; could be 2022
OTHER PACIFIC ISLANDS
Dravuni Island, Fiji. The island nation is now struggling to contain an outbreak of COVID-19. Photo: iStock
This was all looking good until late May, when Fiji suffered its first major outbreak of COVID-19. The island nation is now struggling to contain the virus, and there's no chance of a bubble opening up with Australia while that's happening. Other nations mentioned in potential Pacific bubble arrangements, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, are essentially COVID-free, though without Fiji involved, there may not be the impetus to make this happen.
Bubble chances: Stay tuned for an update… in a few months
Visitors in front of Tiananmen Gate in Beijing. Photo: AP
Don't laugh: COVID-19 is well under control in China, with official figures showing fewer than 50 new cases a day in a country of more than a billion people. Conceivably, China could be an ideal bubble partner. However, with diplomatic relations at an all-time low, and the idea of palling up with China a politically unpopular one, don't expect to be heading off to Beijing any time soon.
Bubble chances: Forget it
Tokyo's Shibuya district. Photo: iStock
For so long, it appeared as if Japan would be a natural candidate for a travel bubble with Australia – and indeed Scott Morrison is still talking about it as a candidate after Singapore opens. The trouble is, COVID-19 is still making waves in Japan despite recent lockdown measures, with more than 1000 new cases daily. A slow vaccine roll-out (only 17 per cent have received their first dose) means there's unlikely to be much confidence in Japan getting on top of the pandemic any time soon, and therefore little chance of a bubble while Australians remain un-jabbed.
Bubble chances: Get ready… for 2022
Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world. Photo: iStock
Here's another former poster child for COVID-19 suppression that is now in the midst of its worst outbreak, though we're still talking fewer than 200 new cases a day, and the country has just been gifted 2.5 million vaccine doses by the US government. However, any amount of COVID-19 is likely to scare risk-averse Australia away, so don't expect to be eating at the original Din Tai Fung any time in the next few months.
Bubble chances: Not in the near future
The Cheonggye Stream in Seoul. Photo: AP
South Korea just chugs along. It's one of the few countries to successfully run a suppression model in the fight against COVID-19, with daily new cases having plateaued around the 500 mark for almost six months now. However, that's still far too much for us, and though South Korea will soon loosen its quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers, you can forget a holiday in Seoul for the rest of this year.
Bubble chances: That's a no
Motorbike riders masked up in Hanoi. Photo: Getty Images
Nup. Just not going to happen. Vietnam is another country that has suppressed COVID-19 levels to almost none, though there's been a recent surge in the country, blamed on a new variant of the virus. Foreign arrivals have been reduced in Vietnam to the bare minimum since the pandemic began, and neither Australia nor Vietnam has voiced any desire to change that.
Bubble chances: Sadly, not going to happen
Shopping for face masks on Oxford Street, London. Photo: Getty Images
Sure, the UK has been one of the world's worst-hit by COVID-19, with almost 130,000 deaths, and the country continues to struggle with new variants running rampart – but the Australian government is still talking about it for a prospective bubble, with only one small caveat: once they get their numbers under control. Obviously, that isn't going to happen. At least, not to a point that Australia would find acceptable before the majority of us here are vaccinated. So once again, forget about your pint and a pasty until 2022.
Bubble chances: Not this year
Times Square, New York City. More than 70 per cent of adults in the state of New York have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: iStock
Same goes as the UK. There's been vague chat from our leaders about a bubble with the highly vaccinated Americans. However, with the same caveat. And with the USA still recording more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, and vaccination rates dropping, they're unlikely to reach a point of "control" any time soon. The only way a bubble with the US will go ahead is if it's restricted to vaccinated passengers only, and to allow those arrivals into Australia to avoid quarantine (otherwise, what's the point?). Which you just can't see happening any time soon.
Bubble chances: It will take a miracle – but miracles happen
Cyclists take a look at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. France opened its borders to vaccinated tourists earlier this month. Photo: AP
There is movement in the EU now to introduce a raft of continent-wide COVID-19 control measures, allowing freedom of movement within EU countries. That, conceivably, could then mean the chance of a travel bubble between Australia and the EU in its entirety, or at least the Schengen Zone. Of course that would also be fiendishly difficult to organise and control, so don't expect to see it before Australians get themselves vaccinated.
Bubble chances: Yeah, nah
Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. Photo: iStock
Oh, Canada. How we long to see your fair mountains, to hear your charming accents, and even to drink your Tim Horton's coffees. A bubble with Canada doesn't sound that far-fetched. The country is down to about 1200 new COVID-19 cases a day; it has already partially vaccinated a whopping 65 per cent of its population; and our two countries are very close politically and culturally. And yet no one is talking about this at all. What gives, eh?
Bubble chances: Potential dark horse
WHERE ARE WE LOOKING FOR FLIGHTS?
According to Skyscanner data, these are the top 10 most searched destinations for Australians right now. No surprises that Auckland and Queenstown lead the pack. What is surprising is that Singapore isn't in the top 10, but Seoul is, which might indicate which destination Australians consider the most likely bubble destination.
*Search feature option on Skyscanner to search for flights anywhere in the world based on price
Which countries do you think will be first to open to Australians? When is that likely to happen? And will you visit as soon as you can?