Caution Advised as More Southeast Asian Countries Open up

From Singapore and Malaysia to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, borders are starting to reopen after months of pandemic-induced restrictions and lockdowns.

Thailand’s reopening provided a boost for Thai tourism businesses and also provided a ray of hope in Asia for the airline industry as the first reopening in the region. More countries across Asia are also planning to reopen.

Singapore has gradually been doing so through its Vaccinated Travel Lane system, which allows visitors from 16 countries to enter without quarantine. 

In Malaysia, fully vaccinated foreign travelers would be allowed to visit the island of Langkawi from Nov 15 with no quarantine restrictions. Malaysia has also announced that its borders should be opened to foreigners by Jan 1 at the latest. 

Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to implement a travel corridor between the two countries through the Vaccinated Travel Lane arrangement and more details will be announced at a later stage.  The relevant ministers will refine the initiative so that the border between the two countries – involving the Kuala Lumpur-Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur -Bali- Kuala Lumpur routes – could be opened. On Oct 14, Indonesia opened its doors to travelers from 19 countries visiting Bali and the Riau Islands.

The travel corridor will also involve mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates and standard COVID-19 PCR screening test results. Malaysia hopes that the travel lane with Indonesia can start in early 2022. Indonesia has so far no vaccinated travel lane (VTL) with other countries but Malaysia announced its first VTL with Singapore which will start on Nov 29.

In Cambodia, where more than 87 percent of the population of nearly 17 million has been vaccinated against COVID-19, the country is now ready to welcome fully-vaccinated tourists quarantine-free. 

Vietnam plans to reopen the resort island of Phu Quoc to vaccinated foreign visitors later this month. From January next year, Vietnam will resume regular flights with 15 markets, eyeing four flights per week for each end and eyeing a full resumption by July These would be increased to seven weekly and quarantine would be waived for travellers holding vaccine passports. Vietnam is trying to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations, with just 38 percent of its 98 million people inoculated so far.

Talks are also underway for a quarantine-free travel bubble between the Philippines and South Korea. If the plan goes through, it would be the first travel bubble arrangement for the Philippines since the start of the pandemic.

The pandemic remains a threat, with new virus variants and the prospect of even more dangerous strains emerging. Governments are basically in experimental mode as they welcome back international travelers, but any major new COVID outbreak could prompt a reversal of the reopening, according to industry personnel.

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