A screen displays the temperature readings of people passing a health checkpoint in a mall in Beijing, China

Asia’s travel bubbles are fighting to escape during the pandemic

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Hello from Wellington and Beijing today.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, people around the world have sought inspiration in the Asia-Pacific region – the first frontline of the crisis – to reject the deadly disease and then rebuild troubled economies.

Our Main piece Today is about the region’s mixed success with travel bubbles and accelerated visa systems during the pandemic. We assume that there might be a lesson for vaccine diplomacy.

in the Policy monitoring We are looking into the possibility of review clauses being used to break the deadlock in EU-UK trade talks during our Chart of the day highlights a milestone for China’s currency.

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The resurgence of outbreaks in Europe and the US is causing unrest in China

When Singapore and Hong Kong announced a travel bubble earlier this month, Lion City’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung dared the initiative to serve as a role model for the world.

“If we can show the world that this is successful, it will be a good reference point [for other countries]”Ong said, adding,” This is as close as possible to traveling before Covid. “

The new system, which would have some travelers skipping quarantine between the two Asian financial centers, has been postponed after a surge in local broadcasting in Hong Kong.

The episode is a clear warning of the weakness of a travel bubble, trustworthy travel scheme, or other such arrangement: Months of careful planning are instantly undone by an unpredictable coronavirus outbreak.

While the Singapore-Hong Kong deal may still prove successful – and postponing a wise decision – other examples from the region illustrate similar systems that are disintegrating or not flying.

In April, South Korean companies started charter flights to bring engineers and executives to their factories in closed countries like China and Vietnam. Since then, up to 10,000 Korean business people have entered China through special procedures established in May under a bilateral agreement. Travelers benefited from one-time visa permits and, in some regions, from accelerated quarantine.

However, earlier this month, employees at tech giant Samsung were told that two scheduled charter flights to Xian and Tianjin had been suspended. The move came amid signs that South Korea was hit by a third wave of coronavirus, leading to stricter social distancing measures across Seoul. Korean corporations and diplomats are still trying to assess whether these flight cancellations mean the fast-track system will be put on hold until the risk subsides.

There are reasons to be careful. After the unprecedented lockdown of the world’s most populous country earlier this year, China has embarked on a strategy to eliminate viruses completely. The resurgence of outbreaks in Europe and the US is creating unrest in Beijing and tightening restrictions.

A screen displays the temperature readings of people passing a health checkpoint in a mall in Beijing, China. © Yan Cong / Bloomberg

In early November, China’s embassies in the UK, Italy, France and a number of other nations with high daily cases published new rules for travelers to China that required two medical tests within 48 hours of flight – a blood test for antibodies and a swab test for viral RNA.

The UK Chamber of Commerce in China criticized the sudden announcement, while the EU Chamber said the return of travel restrictions had “dealt a severe blow to business sentiment”.

“European companies fear that the list of affected countries will be expanded quickly and that companies will be forced to reassess where they are deploying their employees,” said the chamber.

Despite these complaints, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing defended the measures as a necessary response to rising infection rates around the world, arguing that the number of infected people arriving in China rose by 45 percent in October.

“As the circumstances stand… We have stepped up epidemic control work on the other end to protect China’s hard-won domestic control of the epidemic,” a ministry spokesman said.

Even in the Pacific, New Zealand’s efforts to resume quarantine-free travel to the financially troubled Pacific island nations are hard to pin down. Not at all, despite months of serious outbreaks in New Zealand and many Pacific countries. In Australia, politicians have prevented people from traveling across national borders.

The Asian experience is based on the fact that there are no universal rules for safe travel or quarantine. The subsequent ad hoc systems, such as the Singapore-Hong Kong bubble and the fast-track visas for China, remain opaque, the rules are fluid and can change. This offers little security to people, businesses or governments alike.

These examples also underscore that countries – perhaps cities – where viruses have been cleared are highly unlikely to reopen borders until all travelers are vaccinated with a trustworthy dose. The result: until a safe vaccine is universal, things will not go back to normal.

In the course of 2020 multilateral groups like the G20 and G7 were called upon to lead the world through the pandemic and to ensure the continued safe movement of people and goods. This tour did not come about.

These lessons from Asia, Trade Secrets hopes, could now at least double the efforts of politicians, diplomats and health officials to collaborate and coordinate the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

In the meantime, we’re leaning on West Ham fans for the final say on quarantine-free (travel) bubbles: “They’re flying so high they almost reach the sky. . . Then like my dreams they fade and die. “

Mapped waters

China’s currency is expected to have its best six months against the US dollar as the coronavirus containment and the country’s economic recovery offer a competitive advantage that investors expect well into 2021. The renminbi surge, which came under pressure earlier this year, underscores a fortune reversal as China shifted from the center of the pandemic to the center of the pandemic as cases increased in the US and Europe.

The bar chart of the change in the renminbi-dollar exchange rate from the previous half year (%) shows that China's currency is on the way to its best six months in existence

Policy monitoring

EU chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, wears a mask with the EU flag during a break in talks
EU chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, wears a mask with the EU flag during a break in talks © Justin Tallis / AFP / Getty

The negotiators are considering the idea of ​​review clauses to break the deadlock in trade talks between the EU and the UK, with the possibility that parts of the deal could be re-examined a few years after it came into force.

EU diplomats said the two sides were discussing whether review clauses and transitional arrangements had the potential to alleviate the pain of compromise needed to reach an agreement – but warned that the two sides still had very different views on how this could work .

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