Restrictions, lockdowns, testing, immunizations, vaccine passports and travel bubbles — much of this is not new stuff conceptually, but we must continue to monitor the activity around the globe to know how global mobility is being impacted as business travel, relocation and international assignments continue to pick back up. Let's have a look at some recent happenings across the world over the last two weeks.
- Singapore and Australia: Both countries have avoided severe outbreaks and are now looking again at putting in procedures to create a "travel bubble" that would restart travel between the two countries through mutual recognition of health and vaccination certificates. While this conversation began in March, it is back on the table and details around a digital process are being pinned down. Travel bubbles like this are dependent not only on the technology but also how well each country is able to track, identify, record and authorize health and vaccination records. According to our friends at Relo Network Asia, in Australia, non-residents including non-citizens and temporary visa and visitor visa holders are still banned from arriving in Australia, and in Singapore, most foreigners remain banned.
- European Union - Digital Covid Certificate: The EU Digital COVID Certificate ("COVID passport" or "Digital Green Certificate") is currently issued to vaccinated, tested or recovered individuals in the European Union only. The certificate, which is issued for free, is available in digital and paper formats and is valid in all EU and Schengen Area countries. Per our friends at Fragomen, the EU Digital COVID Certificate is currently being issued by 13 EU member states (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain) through their national health centers or authorities. Sixteen other countries have successfully tested the digital infrastructure and are likely to begin issuing the certificates shortly (July 1).
- European Union - U.S. travelers coming: The European Union has added the United States and several other countries to its travel “white list” on Wednesday, allowing vaccinated visitors to forgo quarantine requirements and move more freely between the 27 EU nations. The idea is that Americans could use the EU Digital COVID Certificate, too. The recommendation is non-binding, and national governments have the authority to require test results or vaccination records and to set other entry conditions. Some EU countries have already lifted restrictions for Americans, including Greece, Portugal and Spain to name a few. The EU is still looking for the U.S. to relax its travel restrictions on EU countries before the transatlantic corridor will fully reopen.
- United Kingdom: The UK has decided to delay lifting all COVID-19 restrictions (the so-called "freedom day") by one month with a new date of July 19. The delay has been prompted by recent surging of the Delta variant (a "variant of concern" according to the World Health Organization), which is now making up 91% of new cases and is somewhere between 40 and 60% more transmissible. Per this Time article, "Delta-variant patients there have seen symptoms develop more quickly and grow more severe than those in people infected with other variants." According to HR Review, this delay is hoped to ensure that two-thirds of the adult population in the UK will receive two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by July 19.
- Japan: Good news here as daily cases have subsided significantly as of late. As infections have declined across Japan, the government has moved to end the COVID-19 state of emergency that has been in place in Tokyo and eight other prefectures (Hokkaido, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka). The date set for most of these locations is Sunday, June 20, although a few will have restrictions end July 11. Japan continues to consider how to address attendance at upcoming Olympic events at multiple locations across the country. Again, according to Relo Network Asia, the slow and cumbersome process moves onward; however, it is likely that a large percentage of the expat population will have to wait until well after the Olympics are finished before they have any chance of getting shots in their arms.
- China: The country has tripled its daily vaccine rollout but is hesitant to open borders yet. China is now rolling out 17.3 million doses per day on average in June, up sharply from 4.8 million in April, as it expanded the list of approved vaccines to seven by adding three more locally-developed shots and continued to boost production. The issue has been that the rollout has been slightly uneven, with U.S. News reporting that, "By the first week of June, major cities of Beijing and Shanghai fully inoculated nearly 70% and 50% of their residents respectively, but the rate in Guangdong and Shandong provinces remained below 20%."
- Canada: Canada and the United States are discussing how to lift border and travel restrictions that are currently in place until June 21, but most experts believe the restrictions will be extended again. Business leaders in both countries have voiced opposition to ongoing border closures. At the same time, new research revealed that 20% of non-vaccinated Canadians would lie about having been vaccinated in order to travel. The 2021 Smart Traveller Survey, conducted by the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA), found that 14% of Canadians are not interested in getting the vaccine.
- United States - New York and California: At one point, New York had a positivity rate of 48.2%, the highest in the world at the time, but is now at 0.4% with 70% of people having at least one dose of vaccine in the state. The state has now announced the end to all state-mandated restrictions for all commercial and social settings. California has also been moving to eliminate restrictions and officially "re-opened" on June 15. Per the New York Times, most counties had already lowered their case rates to a point that allowed public gatherings and indoor dining service, but the new approach effectively ends the entire color-coded system that set tiers of rules based on infection levels. Large indoor events will require a negative test or proof of vaccination, and masks will still be required in crowded, higher-risk areas (think hospitals, public transit etc.).
Then, some further good news arrived last week. On June 10, President Biden announced a historic vaccine donation of a half a billion Pfizer vaccines to the world's lowest income nations. As the fact sheet shares, "This is the largest-ever purchase and donation of vaccines by a single country and a commitment by the American people to help protect people around the world from COVID-19." The next day, G-7 leaders (from Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan) announced they were joining in and committing to doubling that amount.
Singapore and Australia will work towards putting in place an air travel bubble between the two countries, their prime ministers said on Thursday, after more than a year of travel disruption caused by the pandemic. "We discussed how two-way travel between Singapore and Australia can eventually resume, in a safe and calibrated manner, when both sides are ready," Singapore leader Lee Hsien Loong told a joint news conference with visiting Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.