Japan travel bubble with Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia etc - when can we expect to see one?
In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep eager travellers from their most desired destinations (including Niseko) with border closures and long quarantine periods. But as the Pzfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines get rolled out globally, we expect to see international travel return soon in the form of 'bubbles': agreements between 2 or more countries that have determined that the risk of an outbreak from each other's residents is low and have little-to-no daily infections.
Many new and returning Niseko guests have been searching for a timeline on these travel bubbles (as they have been rumoured in news media), so here is some information on the current status of key countries that are likely to be considered for a travel bubble with Japan, and a prediction of when a bubble could come into effect.
Please note this information is compiled from news media outlets, and is not meant to be treated as a professional medical or governmental source. When booking international travel, please consult the relevant governmental websites for your country/Japan and follow professional medical advice regarding COVID-19 prevention and protection of others.
What is the current situation with Japanese borders?
According to The Japanese Ministry of Justice, entry to Japan will be denied to all travellers (including business travellers), unless they are:
- a Japanese citizen
- a foreign resident of Japan
- a spouse or child of a Japanese national, permanent resident or long-term resident with “special exceptional circumstances”
until further notice.
1. Hong Kong Travel Bubble
- The South China Morning Post reports that Hong Kong will reduce its mandatory hotel quarantine time by 7 days for low-risk travellers from Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore and vaccinated travellers from countries like Japan and South Korea, even if they are not Hong Kong residents. Travellers will have to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, then at home for another 7 days, with mandatory testing and surveillance along the way.
- It was also reported that in late March, Hong Kong officials like Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau have written to countries like Japan, Thailand, South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam to suggest resuming negotiations for a quarantine-free travel bubble.
- The negotiations include a suggested rule that travellers must be vaccinated prior to departing their home country. A bilateral agreement on this rule is necessary if a travel bubble is to go ahead safely. If Hong Kong continues to improve its community transmission prevention, it may be one of the first to be allowed into Japan if vaccination is a pre-requisite for travel.
2. Singapore Travel Bubble
- On March 14th 2021, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that they are in talks with Australia about the possibility of opening a quarantine-free travel bubble and mutually recognising vaccinations among travellers.
- On March 18th, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs Chee Hong Tat detailed Singapore's desire to work towards open borders and mutual vaccine recognition to Japanese Ministers:
"Singapore will continue to cooperate closely with Japan as we chart our paths toward a post-COVID recovery. Our countries have started vaccinations against COVID-19, which bodes well for the reopening of our economies, restoration of connectivity, and resumption of people-to-people exchanges. In this regard, we look forward to working with Japan and other countries on the issue of mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates."
- It is likely that when Japan can keep a consistent hold on COVID-19 infections and vaccination rates increase, Singapore will be one of the first in line to request and work towards a quarantine-free travel bubble with Japan.
3. Australia Travel Bubble
- A major win was announced for Australian and Kiwi travellers in early April: a quarantine-free bubble between the two countries beginning April 19th, 2021.
- In a press conference celebrating the announcement, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted that the Chief Medical Officer is regularly assessing other countries that Australia is interested in opening a travel bubble with, including Japan, Singapore and South Korea. However he also mentioned that they "are not in a position to move forward on any of those at this point."
- In line with their ever-cautious approach to COVID-19 and border control, it is unlikely that Australia will open a quarantine-free travel bubble with Japan until it is proven that cases remain low, outbreaks can be managed like in Australia and New Zealand, and the vaccine rollout is sped up in Japan.
- Japan and Australia share one of the strongest trade and tourism relationships in the Asia-Pacific region, so once COVID-19 becomes more controlled in Japan, don't be surprised if Foreign Affairs Ministers rush to get people travelling between the two nations.
What is needed for a travel bubble to open between Japan and other countries?
We'll be honest - it's COVID-19 control. Japan's had a bumpy ride with keeping the pandemic under control over the last year, with a stable and relatively normal summer in 2020 (and hyperbolic claims that it essentially beat the pandemic), then a rollercoaster of outbreaks, state of emergencies and backfired domestic travel incentives since the start of winter.
Japan is currently under the world's microscope in anticipation of the Olympic Games this year, and is also being criticised by some for its laggard approach to inoculation compared to other developed countries and the impacts this may have on its aging population and frontline workers:
So there is an expectation to 'up-the-ante', which will undoubtedly be felt by Japanese officials who are always concerned with Japan's image on the global stage. Combine that with the importance inbound tourism has to Japan's economy, and you've got a country that has to work towards controlling the pandemic, whether they like it or not.
So it's a waiting game - what can you do until a bubble is announced?
Luckily, if you're holding out to book your trip to Niseko until a travel bubble is announced, you at least don't have to wait to book your accommodation. Vacation Niseko offer a free cancellation policy and a COVID-complication protection clause, so you can feel confident that you're booking with flexibility. If you can't travel at the last minute due to border closures or mandatory quarantine, you can postpone your stay or get a full refund. For all the details, visit our terms and conditions page, and if you'd like to browse available accommodations for next winter and make a booking, click the button below: