By Arun Ranjit
A lot has happened since COVID-19 emerged at the end of 2019 and spread the virus to almost all the countries of the world.
However, the US, Europe, Australia and Latin America have been opened already for tourists and travelers. But now nearly two years after, as of fall 2021, more doors of the countries are having safely reopened to tourists throughout Asia. The Maldives began welcoming travelers over a year ago, in July 2020.
However, still, some countries remain closed off entirely including Japan which is still largely closed to travelers without special exemptions.
Even if the doors are opened by the various nations, the travelers entering countries should prepare to do everything from submitting a health questionnaire, pre-departure coronavirus test, undergoing more testing on arrival, and potentially quarantining in a government-approved facility.
Over 130 million international visitors were reported in the South and East Asia region prior to the pandemic the countries of that area are racing to reopen their borders as the tourist season descends.
Tourism has been a key economic driver in the region that has been providing 42 million jobs and saw close to one billion domestic trips annually then.
Thailand which opened its tourist destination Phuket in July has been open from Monday (November 1) to all vaccinated travellers entering the kingdom by plane from 46 countries and territories will not have to undergo quarantine.
Malaysia will be reopening Langkawi to fully vaccinated travellers under a pilot scheme in which visitors need not quarantine but will have to stay on the island for at least three days.
Cambodia too, will start with quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated foreign tourists to two seaside provinces at the end of next month.
Singapore has adopted a Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme, which allows quarantine-free travel with select countries. There are now 11 such lanes, with the most recent additions being Australia and Switzerland.
Indonesia’s Bali reopened to foreign visitors from 19 countries about two weeks ago, but a lack of international flights to the resort island has meant tourist numbers have been muted so far.
China, the original epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, began reopening in 2020. All international arrivals, they say, should be prepared to complete quarantine at a government-selected facility or hotel at their own expense, even if they have a residence in China.
Hong Kong has implemented social distancing and quarantine measures off and on throughout the pandemic.
In Taiwan, those granted permission will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days prior to boarding their flight and quarantined in a government-approved hotel or facility with periodic testing, at their own expense, for 14 days upon arrival.
South Korea is open to fully inoculated travelers for activity monitoring instead of government quarantine at the discretion of Korean authorities at the point of entry.
Vietnam reopened its borders to foreign visitors.
Japan’s borders are currently closed to travelers.
The Philippines has not announced any tourism reopening plans.
India is fully resuming from November 15, 2021, for individuals with tourist or e-tourist visas issued on or after October 6, 2021.
The Maldives reopened to travelers in July 2020.
Nepal started welcoming trekkers and mountaineers into the country in October 2020. As of September 24, 2021, the country began allowing fully vaccinated tourists to visit without quarantine. On-arrival visas are not available to unvaccinated travelers.
Sri Lanka is also open. But in addition, the government has instituted a nightly curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., and there are some restrictions on inter-provincial travel due to outbreaks.
Turkey was among the earliest countries to reopen, with restaurants, museums, and hotels up and running again in 2020. However, the country implemented new restrictions—including a curfew and bans on interstate travel—after a significant spike in cases in the first half of 2021. As of July 1, the Turkish government has lifted restrictions and travelers can move around the country freely. However, as of September 6, proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours is required for intercity travel by bus, plane, train, or other public transportation.
Israel has also reopened to fully inoculated travelers.
Jordan also opened its doors to fully vaccinated travelers. But those unvaccinated travelers will need to conduct a second test upon arrival.
Georgia has resumed international flights and welcomed the travelers.
Uzbekistan’s tourist sites have reopened with a new standardized set of hygiene regulations, and the government is backing these measures with a guarantee.
In all countries the travelers arriving will need to present a valid vaccination record, a negative PCR-based COVID-19 test (within 72 hours of departure), and show proof of a hotel room confirmation.
In some countries upon arrival, the travelers will need to undergo another test, wait for negative results, then be transferred to quarantine for 21 days, followed by seven days of self-monitoring and five coronavirus tests throughout.
Though the doors of the various countries have been opened for foreigners. But the process to enter has been lengthy. And also, travel could cost more, as it needs mandatory Covid-19 tests and procedures.
Consumer demand could also veer towards private and smaller tours instead of traditional mass-based tourism.
The different entry procedures that each country has in place for international travellers – ranging from compulsory insurance coverage, to the kind of Covid-19 testing and paperwork needed, and even specific lists of authorised travel agents and hotels that visitors must use – could dampen enthusiasm for international travel.