A number of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are relaxing their covid restrictions in order to welcome back international travellers.
Asia – particularly ASEAN countries – is the continent where the strictest restrictions were imposed the strictest to keep case numbers low in order to protect the population from the spread of the Covid-19 virus. However, with most of the Southeast Asian population now fully vaccinated, the need to apply very strict rules on visiting foreign travellers is no longer a priority. On the contrary, local governments are now looking to revive their battered tourism sector.
Prior to the crisis, travel and tourism were a major source of revenue and employment for local populations throughout ASEAN countries. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), in countries such as Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand, travel and tourism generated between 20% and 25% of the local GDP. While in Malaysia and Singapore, the sector represented over 11% of the total GDP.
These numbers highlight the urgency for these countries to welcome back international travellers. Singapore has been leading the way since October, when it introduced travel lanes for vaccinated people. Cambodia has been fully open to vaccinated travellers since November with Laos following suit in January this year.
Welcoming 40 million international travellers a year before the pandemic ASEAN’s largest tourism destination, Thailand relaunched its “Test & Go” program on February 1st. This allows all vaccinated travellers to enter Thailand with a minimal quarantine of 2 x 1 overnight in a hotel until the result of a PCR Covid-19 test.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam to open up by April
The Philippines reopened its borders to travellers visiting from fifty countries on Friday (10th February). This includes most countries in Asia, Europe and North America. According to the new criteria set up by the health authorities, travellers from these countries can come to the Philippines for 30 days, provided they are fully vaccinated, have performed a PCR test 48 hours before departure, have a return ticket and proof of health insurance up to £35,000 dollars there is no quarantine requirement.
After predicting that Malaysia was unlikely to reopen anytime soon, due to the Omicron variant the Malaysian government made a complete u-turn last week. On February 8, the government announced that it would open to all vaccinated travellers on March 1st – thus officially ending a two-year international isolation. Two negative tests will be required before departure and on arrival in the country.
Vietnam will also loosen its entry rules for international travellers. In a recent speech, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh announced that the country would reopen in its entirety to foreign visitors, ideally by the end of March, at worst by the end of April. Progress in the campaign for a third dose of the Covid vaccine among the general population will be crucial.
According to local media reports, visitors with a complete vaccination schedule will be allowed into the country. Travellers will also need to have a PCR test less than 72 hours before arrival and be in possession of US$50,000 in medical insurance.
Indonesia, ASEAN’s last pocket of resistance for how long? S
Similar news on the relaxation of restrictions is also expected to come from Indonesia. So far, the world’s largest archipelago only allows international travellers to come to Bali and for Singaporeans to visit Batam and Bintan. Both islands face Singapore across the Strait and are easily accessible by ferries or catamarans.
Bali is now open to any travellers. However, they must still undergo a five-day quarantine if vaccinated and a seven-day quarantine if not fully vaccinated. All expenses must be paid in advance while health insurance worth US$100,000 is also required for entry. These conditions are likely to soften rapidly, however, in order for Indonesia to match the offer of its tourism competitors.