May 17, 2021
WHILE COUNTRIES ALL AROUND ASIA-PACIFIC have imposed strict travel bans and quarantines in order to limit the spread of Covid-19, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in the coming months. As vaccines roll out, countries are slowly working on ways to safely welcome visitors again. As with everything in the global pandemic, these rules can fluctuate with the circumstances, but here are the places that look especially promising right now.
Oh, the Kingdom of Bhutan—is there anything it can’t do? Not only is it once again one of the happiest nations on the planet, but it also managed to get at least one dose of vaccine in the 93 percent of the population over 18 in just two weeks. What’s more, their total caseload is only around 1,000 and the Bhutanese people handled lockdowns and social distancing regulations with aplomb. There’s no official opening date for international visitors just yet, but if things keep going this well, the future of travel to the Land of the Thunder Dragon looks bright.
Although Hong Kong may have been hit with Covid-19 early in the pandemic, swift, decisive lockdown measures and restrictions every time a wave hit, plus a 21-day quarantine for international arrivals, were enough to effectively contain the virus. Officials are understandably cautious about reopening borders, but a Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble is in the works. The agreement has already been delayed several times and is contingent on low case numbers (Singapore’s new lockdown is likely to push things back further), but would allow citizens of two of Southeast Asia’s most important hubs to move freely between one another. Note that the travel bubble will close for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked cases in either country goes above five.
Unfortunately, on April 18, a spike in Covid-19 cases forced Thai officials to delay Phuket’s proposed July opening for vaccinated travelers. Nevertheless, the government insists that 70 percent of the island’s population will be vaccinated by July 1, which would meet the level that some epidemiologists say is necessary for herd immunity. Since tourism is essential to the island’s economy, officials are eager to reopen as soon as it is safely possible to do so.
While new inter-provincial travel restrictions mean you might want to hold off on booking your trip to Sri Lanka for just a moment, the country has been welcoming international visitors officially since January. Granted, travelers will need to spend the first 14 days of their stay isolated from locals, but the Sri Lankan government has found one of the best possible compromises to make that time pleasant: Instead of being locked in a traditional quarantine, you’re allowed to stay at multiple pre-approved hotels, have full use of their facilities, and visit “bubble attractions” during the period.
Photo courtesy of visitmaldives.com
Partly due to its unique geography, the Maldives has done a solid job of containing the spread of the virus, which allowed them to reopen borders to all countries on July 15, 2020. As of April 20, fully vaccinated visitors are not required to quarantine or submit a negative PCR test (though at least one hotel will administer you one). Visitors traveling to islands where at least 60 percent of the population is vaccinated—increasingly the norm at many private island resorts—don’t need to bother with quarantining either. In the near future, the country even plans to offer a “Visit, Vaccinate and Vacation” plan that would offer a vaccine to visitors at the airport.
Considered by many to be an early success story in the pandemic, Vietnam has nonetheless continued to exercise an abundance of caution when it comes to travel regulations. Still, hope may be on the horizon. According to Taiwan News, Taiwan is considering approaching Vietnam, along with potentially Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Guam and Hawaii, for a travel bubble. Given that the travel bubble between Taiwan and Palau has had its shares of ups and downs, this is far from guaranteed, but it would make a world of difference for ASEAN nations.