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Southeast Asia begins reopening phase

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SINGAPORE, 17 November 2021: From Singapore and Malaysia to Thailand and Vietnam, borders are reopening after 20 months of pandemic-induced restrictions and lockdowns.

Thailand’s reopening boosted tourism businesses and provided a ray of hope in Asia for the region’s airline industry. More countries across Asia are now speeding up their reopening schedules hoping to kickstart economic recovery.

mother with kids and luggage looking at planes in airport, family travel

Singapore is gradually reopening through its Vaccinated Travel Lane system. By 6 December, it will have 21 VTLs. Singapore had earlier announced Vaccinated Travel Lanes with 16 other countries. Thirteen of these are already in effect, and three more with Malaysia, Sweden and Finland are due to start on 29 November.

Travellers from Indonesia and India will enter Singapore under a quarantine-free travel scheme from 29 November. In addition, travellers from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will enter Singapore from 6 December.

Indonesia has yet to open its borders for quarantine-free travel from Singapore. But travellers can travel without quarantine to and from India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE, which had already opened their borders for vaccinated travellers from Singapore.

In Malaysia, fully vaccinated foreign travellers can now visit Langkawi Island with no quarantine restrictions since 15 November. Malaysia has also announced that its borders should fully reopen to foreigners on 1 January 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 14 October, Indonesia opened its doors to travellers 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 no vaccinated travel lane (VTL) with other countries, but Malaysia announced its first VTL with Singapore is now due to start 29 November.

In Cambodia, where more than 87% of the population of nearly 17 million has been vaccinated against Covid-19, the country’s Prime Minister announced last Sunday the country was opening immediately to fully-vaccinated tourists without quarantine. It is good news for the travel trade in Siem Reap, the country’s most popular destination and the beach resorts and islands of Sihanoukville.

Vietnam plans to reopen the resort island of Phu Quoc later this month to international travellers who are fully vaccinated. Vietnam will resume scheduled flights starting with four flights per week from January next year and will reach seven flights weekly by next July. The quarantine will be waived for travellers holding vaccine passports. Vietnam is speeding up Covid-19 vaccinations, having inoculated just 38% of its 98 million people 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 in the future, experts warn. Governments are basically in experimental mode as they welcome back international travellers. Still, any significant new Covid outbreak could prompt a reversal of the reopening strategy.

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