Asia holds strong on borders, throwing cloud over travel of COVID-hit | International Business News

Hwaseong, South Korea Asia-Pacific countries adhere to strict border controls even when vaccination rates are exceeded, hindering prospects for a revival of the region’s pandemic-damaged travel industry.

While mainland China and Hong Kong are sinking deeper into retirement under a strict “zero COVID” policy that requires weeks of hotel quarantine, countries like Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia are following a middle ground that remains non-essential travel. strongly limited.

The region’s cautious stance is increasingly in conflict with Europe and North America, where vaccinated travelers, including tourists, can travel freely with few restrictions other than a negative COVID test result.

“Asia still has a long way to go to achieve the reopening taking place in Europe and North America,” Jayant Menon, a visiting senior at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told Al Jazeera.

“Some of this is explained by the need to also get their vaccinations, but not all. Even countries with high vaccination rates … don’t open their international borders as fast as they relax domestic restrictions. And when they do, they impose much more. requirements and protocols than those applied to the domestic movement. “

As China grows increasingly isolated, many Asia-Pacific countries are taking a middle ground on the resumption of travel [File: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images]

Japan and South Korea, where vaccination rates are approaching 80 percent, have yet to announce a date for the resumption of tourism despite declining restrictions on certain arrivals such as business travelers and students.

Australia, where about 70 per cent of the population is double-vaccinated, has indicated that international tourists will not return until sometime next year.

Malaysia, where 77 percent of residents are doubly stung, remains largely closed to international arrivals, with plans to start accepting international tourists by January.

Singapore, where more than 80 per cent of the population has received two doses of vaccine, has resumed travel without quarantine in phases via a vaccine travel route, which as of next month will include 21 countries.

Arrivals to most of Asia declined by 99 percent on pre-pandemic levels in September, compared with declines of just 20 percent in Mexico and about 65 percent for Southern Europe, according to figures compiled by Capital Economics.

Ahead of the pandemic, Asia-Pacific welcomed about 291 million tourists annually, adding $ 875 billion to the economy, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index.

“Three-speed recovery”

Joshua Ng, director of Alton Aviation Consultancy in Singapore, told Al Jazeera that he did not expect international travel to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 or 2025, as the region has experienced a “three-speed recovery” among Western countries, the Asia-Pacific. and China.

“Asian countries have demonstrated a cautious approach and this has been a result of several other viral outbreaks – such as SARS, H1N1, MERs – that have hit Asian countries hard in the 21st century,” Ng said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic response reflects the learnings of earlier outbreaks. At the initial outbreaks of the pandemic, Asian countries were among the first countries to close their borders and start urban locks to control the spread of COVID-19.

While Asia-Pacific governments have avoided a quick resumption of travel, the hope of a quick rebound has been dashed further by expectations that China could remain closed from the world until the latter part of 2022 or even later.

Before the pandemic, the world’s second-largest economy, which has doubled efforts to eliminate COVID-19 with strict confinement, quarantine and mass testing, is estimated to have made up about a third of all tourists in the region.

“While there is likely to be a lot of repressed demand, provided China, which accounted for about 30 percent of regional tourists before the crisis, keeps its border closed, the recovery is likely to struggle,” Gareth Leather, senior economist for Asia at Asia. Capital Economics, said Al Jazeera.

It goes far beyond tourism, it goes far beyond business travel. There are so many reasons why people travel. They travel for education, they travel to visit family and friends, they travel for economic migration

Gary Bowerman, director of Check-in Asia

Some countries in the region, including those with irregular vaccine coverage, have taken a bolder approach. India, where less than a third of the population is double-vaccinated, reopened its borders on Monday to tourists from more than 90 countries.

Thailand, which relied on tourism for a fifth of its gross domestic product (GDP) before the pandemic, reopened to tourists from more than 60 countries on November 1, after a dull response to a free “sandbox” of quarantine in the popular resort of . Phuket.

Gary Bowerman, director of Kuala Lumpur-based travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia, said there is a growing realization of the costs of the collapse in international travel.

“It goes far beyond tourism, it goes far beyond business travel. There are so many reasons people travel,” Bowerman said. “They travel for education, they travel to visit family and friends, they travel for economic migration … I I think a lot of governments don’t fully understand that, but I think it’s starting to hit home. “

Bowerman predicted a difficult period ahead as the industry navigated a new baseline after counting on repressed demand among people returning home and visiting friends and family.

“Once that increase declines, then the tourism companies and the airlines have to find out what happens next,” Bowerman said. “Are business trips back to grade as before? You hear some people say ‘yes’, you hear some people say ‘no’. Right now we just don’t know. ”

“People are trying to guess and predict what the travel requirement will be next year, but we just have no idea,” he added. “No one had any idea that there would basically be two years where people don’t travel.”

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