Much of tourism-reliant Southeast Asia has no plans to restrict Chinese tourists — Radio Free Asia

Thailand joined most of Southeast Asia’s tourism-dependent economies on Thursday in keeping entry restrictions lax for Chinese tourists who will resume foreign travel next week, despite the WHO’s warning that Beijing would limit the severity of its COVID-19 outbreak. Outbreak underrepresented.

Like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, Thailand has announced that inbound travelers from China will not need pre-departure COVID tests, despite a steep rise in infections in their country. These Southeast Asian countries, longtime magnets for Chinese tourist dollars, are offering to revive their pandemic-battered economies.

After a meeting of health, tourism and other officials, Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters that everyone must wear face masks in crowded places.

“Thailand will not require COVID test results from tourists from any country. … This is an opportunity to restore our economy and recover from the losses we have suffered for almost three years,” he said.

“[T]here there will be no discrimination against a particular country because COVID-19 is spreading in all countries and the strains are similar. So, it should not be a problem to discriminate any country.

Thailand will, however, reinstate a requirement that travelers have at least two COVID-19 vaccinations and health insurance to cover treatment costs if they become infected.

On December 27th, China announced that it would lift most of its strict travel restrictions starting on January 8th. .

‘Lifeblood’ of the region’s tourism industry

Immediately after the announcement, travel service provider trip.com recorded a 254% increase in flight bookings from mainland China compared to the previous day. Southeast Asian nations and the United States were among the top 10 destinations.

No surprise there. Before the pandemic broke out in the world’s most populous nation, 32 million Chinese citizens traveled to Southeast Asia in 2019, according to Rane Worldview, a geopolitical risk research firm. A year later, that number dropped to 4 million.

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“Chinese visitors are the lifeblood of Southeast Asia’s tourism sector, and their continued absence will further hamper the region’s economic recovery,” it said in a note in September last year.

“The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic … has hit Southeast Asian countries hard — especially Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, where tourism previously generated a significant amount of revenue and jobs.”

At the time, Rane Worldview said a prolonged absence of Chinese visitors would “further disrupt the post-pandemic recoveries” of those nations’ crucial tourism sectors.

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Tourists in traditional Thai costumes take photos at the Wat Arun Buddhist temple in Bangkok, December 9, 2022. Credit: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

‘Want all tourists to be tested for COVID’

Tour operators, hoteliers and allied tourism businesses in Southeast Asian nations are undoubtedly at the prospect of the return of Chinese tourists.

Still, after seeing the coronavirus pandemic doom their countries with knock-on effects on local economies, some are tempering their anxieties with caution.

Zack, a boat operator in Pulau Kapas, Terengganu, an island destination in Malaysia, lives in fear of another COVID-19 lockdown.

“The government should temporarily close its doors to Chinese tourists until things return to normal,” said Zack, who preferred to reveal only his first name because he did not want publicity, BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service, said.

“I’m afraid of being locked down again,” he said, adding that no tourists would visit anyway if there was a lockdown because of an increase in infections.

Last week, Malaysia said it would screen all incoming travelers for fever and test wastewater on flights arriving from China. Those with high fever, or who experience respiratory illness or have COVID-19 symptoms, will be sent to quarantine centers or to health officials for additional testing.

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Sabah, which, along with Sarawak, has more autonomy than other Malaysian states, has however breached the federal government’s COVID travel policy.

Located on the island of Borneo and a popular destination for Chinese tourists, Sabah has decided that starting January 8, travelers from China must be fully vaccinated. They would also have to show proof of a negative COVID test within 48 hours before traveling abroad.

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A Chinese tourist (center) wearing a face mask as a preventive measure after a coronavirus outbreak that started in the Chinese city of Wuhan arrives with others from Nusa Penida at the speedboat pier on Serangan Island in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, Indonesia, 27 January 2020. Credit: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP

In Thailand, Pornpimol Rungrasmisup, the owner of the Thierry Resort in Chiang Mai, told BenarNews that she was in two minds about her country’s policy on Chinese tourists.

“Chinese going out is a big deal for us, it means good sales,” she said, referring to the fact that of the nearly 40 million foreign tourists who visited Thailand in 2019, more than a quarter were Chinese .

“But when I learned that there was no COVID test, I felt uncomfortable. We would like to welcome Chinese tourists. Chiang Mai is ready for them but I wish all tourists are tested for COVID,” said Pornpimol.

Thai tourism authorities predict between 18 and 25 million tourist arrivals this year, with the Thai Chamber of Commerce predicting that 5 million of them will be Chinese nationals.

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Tourists surf the waves in the town of General Luna, on the southern Philippine island of Siargao, October 7, 2022. Credit: Ferdinandh Cabrera/AFP

In the Philippines, which recently imposed travel restrictions on foreign tourists despite the spike in cases in China, a doctor advocated stricter restrictions on travelers from China.

“We have to ask the Chinese tourists to submit an RT-PCR test 48 hours before the flight and of course test them upon arrival,” Dr. Tony Leachon, who was in a team that used to be the government on COVID- 19, told BenarNews.

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A new sub-variant could reverse gains the Philippines has made in controlling the spread of the virus, he said.

“We cannot stop the spread of COVID-19, but pre-departure testing and the requirement to show a negative test result when flying from China to the Philippines can help slow the spread as we work to potentially to identify and understand new variants”.

The Indonesian government, meanwhile, said it did not plan special entry restrictions for Chinese travelers because its population had a high degree of immunity.

However, epidemiologist Dicky Budiman said it was necessary to be constantly vigilant.

“Indonesia must tighten restrictions on foreign tourists to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19. There must be a mechanism or procedure that can at least ensure that everyone entering Indonesia does not carry harmful pathogens,” said he in BenarNews.

“If incoming tourists do not have booster vaccinations, they must take a PCR test to confirm negative for COVID-19.”

Mostly, people in Southeast Asia hope that the Chinese tourists have been effectively vaccinated.

Filipino taxi driver Marionito Marcos, 58, who serves the route from the country’s main airport in Metro Manila, compared the situation to Russian roulette.

“You never know if your passenger has it or not. They may be carriers, we just don’t know,” he told BenarNews.

“Still, people have to work and also survive. And I believe that as long as you have received vaccinations, you will be ok. This is our new normal,” said Marcos.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.



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