Drumbeat to reopen borders to tourists becomes insistent
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Foreign tourists on Bui Vien pedestrian street, one of Saigon's most popular hangouts, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
The clamor is growing for the government to fully reopen borders to tourists in early February and scrap the stringent entry restrictions to revive the tourism sector.
Dinh Viet Son, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam, said at a tourism conference on Monday that full resumption of international tourism is of a piece with the resumption of international flights.
Vietnam resumed regular commercial flights to 10 destinations on January 1, and aviation officials are in talks to restart services to the U.K., France, Russia, and Germany.
Trinh Hong Quang, deputy general director of Vietnam Airlines, said there is a "really urgent" need to fully reopen international borders since the tourism industry has suffered for over two years due to Covid-19.
Truong Gia Binh, head of the Private Economic Development Research Board, questioned the rationale behind keeping borders closed by a country that has one of the world's highest vaccination rates.
The continued closure also contradicts the government's strategy of living safely with the pandemic, he pointed out.
Dr. Thu Anh, director of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, said, "The international tourism closure does not help reduce the spread of the Covid pandemic."
She said the government should therefore consider fully reopening earlier than in May as it plans to.
Foreign tourists should be treated like domestic visitors and not be quarantined, she added.
Officials and travel companies said strict entry restrictions dissuade foreign tourists from visiting the country under the vaccine passport program.
Tran Trong Kien, chairman of the Tourism Advisory Board, said visa issues and the strict quarantine measures keep out foreign tourists, and called on the government to scrap quarantine requirements and ease entry restrictions.
Foreign nationals need to furnish certificates showing they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid and tested negative for the novel coronavirus within 72 hours before departure.
They are required to book a tour package with a designated tourism agency and limit travel during the first seven days after arrival.
In November the government started allowing in foreign tourists under the vaccine passport program and over 8,500 from Russia, South Korea, the U.S., and Canada have arrived so far. According to the Department of Immigration, half of the 8,500 foreign arrivals since the partial reopening have been overseas Vietnamese coming to visit relatives and not tourists.
The arrivals included 27 found infected with Covid. Most of infected tourists didn’t show any symptoms and were monitored at their hotels and tested negative for Covid three to five days later.
Khanh Hoa, Kien Giang, Quang Nam, Quang Ninh, and Binh Dinh provinces and HCMC and Da Nang City are the only localities they are allowed to visit.
Last week a number of industry trade groups urged the government to fully reopen borders on May 1.