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Thailand and Australia Reopen Global Borders

Thailand and Australia Reopen Global Borders
Source: Bloomberg

On Monday, when Australia opened its border for the first time in 20 months, Sydney’s international airport was filled with tears, hugs, and joy, with some incoming visitors removing their masks to see the faces of loved ones they’d been separated from for so long.

Carly Boyd, a New York-bound traveler, told reporters at Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport, where Peter Allen’s unofficial national song “I Still Call Australia Home” was playing.

“There are a lot of folks on that trip who have loved ones who are dying or who have died recently.” “It’s fairly fantastic for them to be able to hop off the plane and go meet them right away,” Boyd added.

The Asia-Pacific region has had some of the harshest COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures and travel restrictions in the world, but with vaccination rates rising and cases down, many are now cautiously reopening.

Some countries, such as China and Japan, are still effectively closed to Western tourists, but Thailand reopened to a large extent on Monday, and many others have already begun or plan to do so.

Before the outbreak, tourism represented for around 20% of Thailand’s GDP, and the lockdown has resulted in enormous employment losses and misery.

Despite the fact that the delta strain of the virus caused a surge in mortality only a few months ago, many Thais are concerned that an inflow of outsiders may provoke new outbreaks.

Issarapong Paingam, a Bangkok cab driver who lost his mother to COVID-19 during the current outbreak, believes the government should first focus on reopening locally before putting international passengers into the mix.

“The administration hasn’t notified the people what they’ll do if there’s another epidemic,” the 34-year-old added. “I’m not sure why they don’t just let people live normally in the nation as a test to see what the trend (of COVID-19 cases) is before accepting visitors.”

Thailand has permitted citizens to travel during the epidemic, but has imposed a stringent two-week quarantine on visitors in specially designated hotels.

Foreign arrivals have dropped from 40 million in 2019 to 6.69 million in 2020 — virtually all in the first three months before the pandemic limitations were implemented — to fewer than 100,000 in 2021.

The reopening on Monday follows a pilot program that began in July on the tourist island of Phuket, allowing fully vaccinated guests from specified countries to spend their quarantine traveling around the island rather than in a hotel room.

Starting Monday, tourists who are fully vaccinated and come from one of the 63 countries and territories designated as “low risk” — a designation that some cynical Thais believe is based on spending power rather than coronavirus illnesses — will be excluded from quarantine. They must stay one night at a selected hotel and are not allowed to leave until they have received a negative COVID-19 test, after which they are free to depart.

Travelers from nations that aren’t on the preferred list or who haven’t been vaccinated are still subject to quarantine.

In the tourist regions, restrictions are also being eased, allowing businesses and other facilities such as department stores, spas, tattoo shops, schools, and athletic events to reopen.

Supat Hasuwant tokit, head of Thailand’s Rural Doctor Society, said he is not concerned about foreign tourists creating a fresh increase in cases because of Thailand’s tight visitor screening and improved immunization rates.

However, he expressed concern about the anticipated reopening of bars and clubs in December, pointing out that prior domestic breakouts occurred after the government let people to assemble for religious services and weddings.

“Once individuals begin to congregate, eat, and drink, there is a strong risk of a new epidemic,” he warned. “Because most pubs and nightclubs are inside with poor ventilation, COVID-19 is easily transmitted once they reopen.”

Masks and distance are still required, as they are in other nations in the region that have begun reopening.

Officials in India, where 400,000 daily cases peaked in April and May, have warned that people must continue to adhere to such limitations in order to avoid “super spreader” incidents over the vacation season as the country progressively reopens.

On Oct. 15, India began issuing tourist visas to fully vaccinated travelers coming on charter flights, and on Nov. 15, it will extend them to visitors arriving on commercial planes.

Sri Lanka, a neighboring country, has begun to admit fully vaccinated passengers without quarantines, as well as partly or non-vaccinated travelers with minor limitations. A similar program exists in South Korea, which began allowing larger social gatherings on Monday and relaxed restaurant operation hours limits.

Vietnam is still blocked, but it wants to open the popular resort island of Phu Quoc to fully vaccinated tourists by the end of the month, and Cambodia, which eased domestic travel restrictions on Monday, has a similar plan to open two beach regions to foreign visitors. Malaysia plans to open its northern vacation island of Langkawi to fully vaccinated guests on November 15th.

Australia is wagering that vaccination rates have risen to the point where overseas travel is no longer a risk.

Only permanent residents and citizens of Australia will be allowed to enter the nation at first. International visitors will be given preference over fully vaccinated foreigners traveling on skilled worker and student visas.

However, the government anticipates that overseas visitors will return to Australia in some capacity before the end of the year.

Vaccinated visitors from Singapore, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, will be welcomed starting Nov. 21 under a bilateral agreement, Australia stated Monday.

Boyd took the first flight back to Australia from New York to surprise her parents.

“It’s quite incredible,” she said after landing on Nine Network television. “It’s been three years since I’ve been home, so it’s thrilling.”

The new freedoms also imply that fully vaccinated Australian permanent residents and citizens can leave the country for any purpose without having to apply to the government for an exception from a travel restriction that has kept the majority of the country stranded since March 25, 2020.

Because New South Wales was the first state in which 80 percent of the people aged 16 and over had been properly vaccinated, Sydney was the first Australian airport to say it will reopen Monday. Melbourne and Canberra, Australia’s capital, both reopened on Monday after Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory met the vaccine requirement.

Despite the fact that Australians are now free to travel internationally, four Australian states and a territory continue to impose pandemic limitations on cross-state travel.

Ethen Carter, an Australian who arrived in Sydney on Monday from Los Angeles, voiced his displeasure at having to ask for permission to visit his ailing mother in Western Australia.

He asked with Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan, who has stated that the state border will not be opened this year, to let him in via the media.

“Mark, consider the folks who are suffering mentally because they are unable to visit their family. “That’s a health concern as well,” Carter added. “We realize we have to preserve people’s lives, but you have to put families back together again.”

If Carter files for an exception, McGowan said his administration would consider allowing him to enter the state.

“These are incredibly sad and terrible circumstances, and we’ve seen a lot of them over the last two years,” McGowan said.