Asia Reopening – EXO Travel Blog
Asia Reopening Plans, Vaccination Progress & Booking Recommendations
Find below a snapshot of where our 9 destinations currently stand and what to expect in the months ahead. From regional updates to vaccination progress and booking recommendations, keep reading to find out more.
The situation in Europe and the Americas has improved considerably compared to this time last year and travel activities are picking up with the US opening to vaccinated travelers in November, the UK red list reduced to a few countries only and even Australia, who had shut down all doors last year, now allowing citizens out earlier than expected.
Although the delta and lambda variants make their presence felt, overall, infections around the world are declining with less than half the number of global infections daily. As vaccination rates across the world rise, hospitalization rates decline, meaning that there are not only fewer cases of COVID, but those that do happen are generally less severe. This underscores the importance of vaccines which, in the path to the reopening of travel across the world, is seen as a crucial index to measure readiness.
The doors for vaccinated travelers are opening earlier or opening wider and travel will be much easier for these travelers going forward.
Vaccination programmes across Asia started out slowly relative to other parts of the world. Now, Asia is now among the most rapidly-vaccinating regions of the world. Accordingly, we have seen a rapid decline in both cases and hospitalisations which has bolstered government efforts to reboot both tourism and economies in general. With Thailand allowing vaccinated visitors to enter quarantine-free from 1st November, Japan, Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia exceeding 70% vaccination now and a growing number of reopening plans in the works, the outlook of future travel to the region is brighter now than any other point since the start of the pandemic.
Covid infection rates continue to fall and restrictions continue to loosen up. Accordingly, Thailand has recently accelerated its path to reopening for tourism ahead of the high season starting in December. From 1 July, vaccinated travellers had been able to enter Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and selected areas of Krabi (Phi Phi Island, Railay, Koh Ngai) under the Sandbox scheme (no quarantine). On 1st October, the duration of the Sandbox was reduced from 14 to 7 days and the required number of PCR tests from 3 to 2 -upon arrival and on day 6/7.
Perhaps the biggest change yet is the reopening to vaccinated travellers from low-risk nations without quarantine slated to begin 1 November. Initially laid out by Thailand’s Prime Minister, it would effectively allow vaccinated travellers to enter and be free to travel anywhere in Thailand after receiving a negative PCR test result within 24 hours of arrival. A negative PCR test before departure to Thailand is still required, and there are reports emerging of a simplified system for checking documents that would replace the current COE (Certificate of Entry) now in place. It should be noted, that the plan is still not formally confirmed and some important unanswered questions remain such as whether COVID insurance will still be needed, what countries are deemed “low risk”, and more. We will be following closely and reach out as details arise. Read more about Thailand’s Reopening here.
Japan now ranks among the most vaccinated nations in the world. By November, it is expected that everyone who wishes to be vaccinated will have done so. In line with high vaccination rates, the Japanese government has laid the foundations for a reopening plan starting with an ‘experimental’ phase that expands on domestic travel through October. It is expected that this will lead to limited reopening to international tourism for vaccinated travellers, though nothing has been laid out formally so far.
Singapore is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. Although they are currently experiencing a surge of infections, numbers remain significantly below peak levels and hospitalisations remain relatively low. Remaining firm on its new policy of ‘learning to live with COVID’, Singapore has expanded its travel lane scheme with Germany/Brunei to now also include the US, Canada, UK, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands. It is expected that Australia and New Zealand will be added to this list soon. Visitors only need to isolate at their hotel until receiving negative results from a PCR test upon arrival. They must also have spent 21 days in included countries prior to their trip to Singapore.
With a relatively small population and an abundant supply of vaccines due to their membership in the COVAX scheme, Cambodia has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Cambodia hast just reinstated the tourist e-visa or ‘Visa-T’ scheme for citizens of the USA and EU. For now, entry will only be permitted in Phnom Penh, and there will be a hotel quarantine period for vaccinated travellers of 7 days. Unvaccinated travellers would still need to quarantine for 14 days.
Malaysia has done a great under-the-radar job to vaccinate its population. Now that a high enough level of vaccinations is reached, the Malaysian government has also announced plans for a ‘Sandbox Style’ reopening of Langkawi to international vaccinated travellers. The island recently reopened for domestic travelers. The reopening plan would first be offered to low-risk nations and then be expanded to others. PCR tests will be required 72 hours before departure to Malaysia and again within 48 hours of arrival. Children under the age of 18 would not need to be vaccinated. Pending the success of Langkawi’s ‘Sandbox’, there are currently 6 other destinations earmarked for reopening, with Kuching, Sarawak on the island of Borneo slated to be next.
Meanwhile, the quarantine period for vaccinated arrivals to other areas of Malaysia is reduced to 7 days from 18 October.
Thanks in part to its low population density, Laos continues to maintain relatively low infection and hospitalisation rates despite a low vaccination rate. Laos is nearing the completion of a 471 kilometre railway connecting the capital, Vientiane, to the Chinese border. This new railway will open up new possibilities for exploring some of the exciting areas north. Travelling at more than 160 km/h, it will make journeys to the north significantly faster while also reducing costs compared to road travel. The new railway is expected to run its first routes on 2 December, 2021. Although there are no official reopening plans in place, we expect that as vaccinations rise, Laos will look to establish regional travel bubbles first, and then look to reopen for international travel in early 2022. We will reach out with updates!
Vietnam has successfully crushed its latest curve of cases and has significantly accelerated its vaccination programme. As of this writing (17 October) it has the fourth-fastest vaccination programme in the world, but still lags behind in the region. A phased reopening plan has been announced that would allow vaccinated travellers to enter Phu Quoc Island under a ‘Sandbox-style’ scheme for essential reasons first and then, potentially, for leisure from November. Nothing has been confirmed yet, though. A wider opening of the country can realistically not be expected before early 2022. We will reach out with further details as they arise.
Indonesia has experienced one of the most dramatic turnarounds of COVID infection rates in the world, going from a peak of 51,000 daily cases to just 1,000 in the space of just 12 weeks. As of 14 October, vaccinated travellers can enter the island of Bali with a PCR test upon arrival and a 5-day hotel quarantine before being able to explore the rest of the island. This plan currently sees a special visa scheme to be applied online or at embassies and applies to nationals from 19 countries including France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Poland, Norway, and Hungary in Europe. Some details regarding this plan are still forthcoming such as whether guests will be able to enjoy hotel facilities during hotel quarantine, whether they will be able to venture elsewhere within the archipelago or only Bali etc. We will reach out with further details as they arise.
Infection rates in Myanmar are now in decline. While the political situation in Myanmar has simmered down, issues remain, making the verification of statistics difficult and any reopening in the near future unlikely. We remain in close contact with our staff on the ground there, all of whom have been vaccinated.
BOOKING RECOMMENDATIONS 2021-2022
If you have guests considering travel to Asia before then, keep in mind that we’re offering flexibility for bookings to be changed or cancelled free of charge up to 14 days before arrival. So feel free and confident to make bookings for travel to Asia, particularly during periods of moderate or low likelihood of impacts from COVID.
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