Singapore from the air credit dronepicr on flickr
Many parts of Southeast Asia managed to escape the worst effects of Covid-19 by closing borders early and imposing strict quarantine, testing and movement measures.
Recently however, hopes of an early return to mass foreign tourism has been dealt a blow as increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases, many linked to new variants, and a slow vaccination programme has caused concern throughout the region.
Singapore has been at the forefront of attempts to open for tourists through the use of travel bubbles and corridors. However a number of these schemes have not been reciprocated by other countries of have been delayed or cancelled due to new outbreaks.
Thailand has been working hard to allow foreign tourists and has welcomed small groups in very controlled conditions. Large-scale projects to allow quarantine-free travel are in flight but risk being delayed by new outbreaks.
We look at the prospects of foreign tourism in 2021 in the key Southeast Asia tourist countries.
Cambodia has been struggling with recent cases of Covid-19 and today (14th May) reported an additional 358 cases and 5 deaths. the country has now 21,499 cases and 147 deaths.
In theory tourists have been able to visit Cambodia throughout the pandemic, in reality very few would have gone through and passed the restrictions in place.
Cambodia is understood to be investigating the feasibility of opening its borders to vaccinated foreign tourists from low-risk countries by the end of the year.
This will be the first phase of the Cambodian tourism reopening plan, part of a 2021-2025 tourism recovery roadmap.
Indonesia reported a further 2,633 cases and 107 deaths on 14th May to give totals of 1,734,285 cases and 47,823 deaths.
Bali has been looking at a number of schemes to help reopen the island. Reports from Bali say that many hotels are struggling and offering very low rates for those customers that are there.
The country was hoping to be able to reopen Bali, Bintan and Batam from July but those plans now seem to be optimistic and likely to be, at best, delayed.
Nusa Dua, Sanur and Ubud on Bali have all been designated as “Green Zones” as part of a “Free COVID Corridor” programme. The plans include vaccinating 60,000 people in Nusa Dua, 27,000 in Sanur and 50,000 in Ubud.
Laos recently reported its first death from Covid as the country found itself affected by the regions latest outbreak. It has so far reported 1,482 cases of Covid-19.
There have been no reports from Laos of a reopening of borders for foreign tourists.
The re-opening of Malaysia does not look any closer than it was at the start of the year.
A new national lockdown began on May 12th and the last few days has seen consistently high numbers of new cases and deaths reported. The lockdown is due to last until at least 7th June.
Authorities have warned that even with the lockdown, daily cases could increase yo between 6,000 and 7,000 by the end of May. Wednesday 12th saw the highest number of daily cases and deaths reported in three months.
Very little of chance of the return of international tourism in the coming months despite recent announcements of relaxation in controls in certain areas.
The country is nervous of new variants of the virus, especially the India variant. It has recently banned all travellers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Srfi Lanka.
The Philippines has been battling the second highest number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 in Southeast Asia.
Numbers have been reducing from their peak and on Friday 6,784 new cases and 137 new deaths were reported to give a total of 1,131,467 cases and 18,958 deaths.
This prompted the government to announce, on 13th May, the easing of some restrictions in manila and nearby provinces.
Religious gatherings and dining in restaurants will be allowed in Metro Manila and the provionces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal for two weeks from 15th May. Non essential travel will remain prohibited however.
The situation will be reviewed again before the end of the month.
Hopes for the early reopening of Singapore to more foreign travellers have been dealt a major blow following a new outbreak.
Today (Friday 14th May) Singapore announced a further lockdown following an increase in new cases. The country reported a further 52 cases on Friday to give a total for the pandemic of 61,505 and 31 deaths.
The new measures will come into force on 16th May and will last until at least 13th June.
Singapore has had very low new cases over the last few weeks, however the 52 new cases reported on Friday were the highest since last September.
The long awaited and often delayed, Hong Kong bubble now looks under increasing threat of a further delay. Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung has said that it is now “very likely” that Singapore would not meet the threshold for the travel bubble.
The new measures from 16th May are:
- Reduced groups: The current maximum number of people in a group will be reduced from 5 to 2 and the number of visitors to a household will be capped at 2 per day
- Dining in banned: All dining in will end including in food courts and hawker centres whether that is indoors or out. All food servery will now be takeouts or delivery only
- Strenuous indoor exercise or sport banned
- Personalised services: activities where masks need to be removed, for example saunas, facials and the playing of wind musical instruments will be prohibited. Medical and dental services are exempt
- Work from home: all employees that can work from home must do so. Those that must work on site must have staggered start times, flexible working hours and no social gatherings
- Reduced event, attraction and mall capacity: maximum of 50 people allowed at events without pre-testing and 100 with testing, this includes religious services. The occupancy limits for malls and attractions will be further educed from current levels
- Increased testing
Changi Airport, including the Jewel, has been closed following a number of cases being linked to the airport. It is thought that the cluster came from international arrivals from high-risk countries.
Changi will be closed from 13th to 26th May to provide time to complete a special Covid-19 swab test for all frontline airport staff and the cleaning and disinfection of premises and facilities
Thailand has been at the forefront of reopening plans for foreign tourists.
Thailand is still hoping to attract between 3 and 4 million foreign tourists in 2022 through the Sandbox scheme.
The Sandbox is due to include a further 10 areas by October with Bangkok, Phangnga, Krabi, Koh Samui, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Buri Ram all joining the scheme. conditions are likely to vary between areas however, Chiang Mai for example is proposing to start in only two areas.
Concerns around the India variant has resulted the temporary suspension of entry certificates for everyone from, or transiting through, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
There have been calls from some quarters in Vietnam to start the reopening process for foreign tourists but so far the government has not announced details or agreed any plans.
Quang Nam province has submitted proposals for a vaccine passport scheme to allow tourists to certain areas under restricted conditions. The plans were not universally supported and received some criticism.
Vietnam continues to try and control the latest outbreak which has seen 46 new cases in the last 24 hours (14th May). The country has now recorded 3,756 cases and 35 deaths.
Vietnam’s new Covid-19 wave has seen 713 local cases recorded in 26 cities and provinces since 27th April. 179 are in Hanoi, 137 in Bac Ninh and 112 in Da Nang.
Da Nang has banned gatherings of more than five people in public and outside of offices and schools as part of its efforts to contain Covid-19. It has closed bars, dance clubs and karaoke parlors and banned festivals.
To date, around 1% of the population in Vietnam has received a Covid-19 vaccination.
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