Asia bets on ‘travel bubbles’, closes doors to Europe, America

By Noel Caballero

Bangkok, June 25 (efe-epa).- As Europe reopens its borders and begins to welcome the first tourists in the Covid-19 world, most countries in Asia and Oceania have maintained a cautious approach and are only considering air “travel bubbles” that join the nations that have largely controlled the virus.

Closed border policy occurs paradoxically in a region where the novel coronavirus has had a minor impact, and where daily infections and deaths caused by Covid-19 have remained very low, especially in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania.

South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, though, have recorded a large number of cases.

However, most countries in the region have kept commercial international flights suspended and restricted entry to just repatriated citizens or diplomatic and humanitarian personnel amid fears of a second wave of the virus as a result of imported cases.

The only way to recover tourism and business travel would be the idea of a good number of governments to create travel corridors between countries where the virus remains under control, thus, for the moment leaving out Europe and America.

Australia and New Zealand were the first countries to come up with a bilateral agreement to revive tourism and business travel between them.

New Zealand has practically returned to normal after overcoming the pandemic with just over 1,100 confirmed cases, including 22 deaths.

The governments in Canberra and Wellington have so far held several meetings to activate the so-called “Tasman Sea Bubble”, which in 2018 crossed a total of nearly 3 million people, although currently, it appears that it will not come into operation before September.

In Southeast Asia, Thailand, a tourism hotspot visited by nearly 40 million people in 2019, is among the countries most interested in reopening their borders to “low-risk” nations to revive a sector that accounts for some 12 percent of its GDP.

On Friday, the Thai cabinet is scheduled to discuss whether to allow unrestricted entry for citizens of China, Japan, and South Korea.

Besides considering reopening the country to medical tourism, a quarantine may not be necessary if patients agree to spend most of their time in the hospital, and business trips are less than two days.

Singapore, whose Changi Airport is one of the busiest in the world, has been allowing travelers arriving from Australia, Japan, China, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam since mid-June, although a period of isolation is required.

Vietnam, a country praised for its quick reaction to the virus and where no deaths have been reported from the Covid-19, plans to resume flights to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Chinese city of Guangzhou in July, considering that the spread of the virus has been curbed in those areas.

On the other hand, Cambodia has completely reopened its borders, although it maintains strict restrictions on movement for foreign visitors at the moment.

Earlier this month, the Japanese government said it would gradually begin to lift the ban on the entry of people from more than 100 countries, but taking into account how the pandemic was being controlled in each of these nations.

The Japanese government announced on June 19 that Vietnam will be one of the first countries to benefit from these measures, which will also be extended to Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand, but did not specify a date.

Despite not closing its borders, South Korea, which admits it is fighting a second wave of the coronavirus, has suspended its automatic visa system and requires everyone entering the country to undergo a 14-day quarantine, except the air corridor it opened with China in May.

In China, where experts believe the virus originated, a fresh outbreak last week in Beijing has once again got the alarm bells ringing after the Asian giant had succeeded in getting the disease under control with preventive measures and restrictions on movement.

China continues to maintain its ban on the entry of foreigners, which began on Mar.28, including those residing in China, with a few exceptions.

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