Australia, New Zealand, Bali, Malaysia and the Philippines reopen for travel
Another day – another border reopens.
Over the past two weeks, a slew of countries have announced plans to reopen or ease border restrictions. This includes places that have maintained some of the strictest pandemic-related border controls in the world.
These announcements follow a record period of global infections. According to the World Health Organization, Covid-19 cases peaked globally in late January, with more than 4 million cases recorded in a single day.
However, many countries are reporting that they cannot economically afford – or no longer want – to remain closed.
The ubiquity of the omicron variant, which began to spread across countries – both open and closed – late last year has caused people to question the usefulness of border-lockdown policies.
Additionally, more than half (54%) of the world’s population is now vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. Medical treatments can counteract and successfully treat serious infections. And, many experts are now “cautiously optimistic” – as top US medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci has said – that a new phase of the pandemic could be within reach.
Arguably the biggest announcement of the past week came on Monday, when Australia announced plans to reopen to vaccinated travelers from February 21.
The news marked the end of “Fortress Australia”, a moniker applied to the country’s controversial border-closure policy that excluded foreigners and citizens.
Visitors to Australia must be vaccinated, a requirement underscored by the much-discussed ousting of tennis player Novak Djokovic in January.
James D. Morgan | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images
The economic toll of Australia’s island border policy was highlighted in January, when shortly after backpackers were allowed entry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to refund some $350 of visa fees to those who moved quickly. It turned out that the about-face on “working holiday” visa holders was part of an effort to alleviate severe labor shortages.
Darryl Newby, co-founder of Melbourne-based travel agency Welcome to Travel, said the pandemic was “not just affecting the travel sector, but all industries” in Australia.
Pressure mounted when Covid infections soared in December, leaving an open question over the goal of keeping travelers vaccinated and tested in lockdown.
“Negative sentiment”, which has started to show up in market research, may have been another factor, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The article quoted Tourism Australia chief executive Phillipa Harrison as saying the country had gone from “envyed” to “ridiculed” over its border policies, with some fearing lasting damage to Australia’s tourist appeal.
The state of Western Australia, home to Perth, is yet to reopen to foreigners or Australian tourists. It scrapped its reopening plans amid a spike in Covid cases in January.
Peak percentage*: 38%
* Reuters 7-day rolling daily average of cases compared to the country’s all-time highest infection rate.
Another so-called “fortress” has announced plans to welcome vaccinated international visitors again.
Unlike Australia, New Zealand presented a five-stage phased reopening plan last week that will not allow international travelers to enter until July, at the earliest. Vaccinated travelers must also self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival.
With few exceptions, the plan first invites citizens and residents to enter later this month, if they are traveling from Australia. Citizens and residents from other locations, as well as eligible workers, can enter in mid-March, followed by some visa holders and students in mid-April.
Vaccinated travelers from Australia and those from countries that do not require a visa – including people from Canada, USA, Mexico, UK, France, Germany, Israel, from Chile, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates – can enter from July. Others will be allowed to visit from October.
Percentage of peak: Peaking and rising
After closing its borders in March 2020, the Philippines announced plans to reopen today to vaccinated travelers from more than 150 countries and territories.
The country has suspended its color-coded country classification program in favor of opening up to vaccinated travelers who test negative for PCR. Institutional quarantines have also been replaced with a seven-day self-monitoring requirement.
Travelers to the Philippines must have valid return tickets and travel insurance with medical coverage of at least $35,000.
Ruelle Umali | Xinhua News Agency | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
Covid cases in the Philippines peaked last month with more than 300,000 daily cases at one point. Cases have fallen as rapidly as they have risen, with 3,543 cases confirmed in the past 24 hours to February 10, according to the WHO.
Despite the push, the Philippines’ tourism ministry said the decision to reopen was tied to economic hardship and, possibly, to match policies in other Southeast Asian countries.
“The Department sees this as a welcome development that will make a significant contribution to restoring employment … and reopening businesses that closed earlier during the pandemic,” Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said in a statement. article on the department’s website. “We are confident that we can keep pace with our ASEAN neighbors who have already made similar progress in reopening to foreign tourists.”
Percentage of peak: 19% and falling
Despite rising infections, Bali, Indonesia opened up to vaccinated international travelers last week.
“It is known that currently the positivity rate is already above the WHO standard of 5%… the number of people checked and tested daily has also increased significantly,” according to a press release published on January 31. on the office of the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment of the country.
A woman meditates sitting in a ball in Bali, Indonesia.
Ted Levin | The image bank | Getty Images
Still, the decision to reopen to international travelers – which has been postponed in the past – was made to “revitalize Bali’s economy”, according to the website.
Travelers are subject to a five-day quarantine requirement, although they can self-isolate at one of 66 hotels, which include many of the island’s well-known luxury resorts like The Mulia Resort and Villa and The St. Regis Bali Resort.
Bali, however, is not reopening its doors to foreign tourists for the first time. It opened last October to travelers from 19 countries. Yet few people showed up, in part because of the lack of international flights and the island’s strict entry requirements.
Percentage of peak (Indonesia): 68% and rising
Malaysia’s National Recovery Council recommended on Tuesday that the country reopen to international travelers as early as March 1, according to Reuters.
Travelers should not be quarantined upon arrival, as the tourism policies adopted by Thailand and Singapore do.
Nearly 98% of Malaysia’s adult population is vaccinated, according to the country’s health ministry, with more than two-thirds using vaccines produced by Pfizer or AstraZeneca, and a third using the China-made Sinovac vaccine.
Malaysia could be on track for a spike in omicron-induced cases. A sharp increase in daily cases began two weeks ago and has not yet subsided.
Percentage of peak: 41% and rising
Relaxation of travel restrictions
Countries that are already open to international travelers are set to further ease entry requirements.
Although Europe is the regional leader in new Covid cases according to the WHO, countries including Greece, France, Portugal, Sweden and Norway have announced plans to scrap incoming testing requirements for travelers vaccinated – although some only apply to EU residents.
Last week, the islands of Puerto Rico and Aruba adopted similar measures.
Other places are moving in the opposite direction. After closing bars and banning some inbound flights in late January, Hong Kong this week instituted new restrictions, including limiting public gatherings to two people. The restrictions are causing citywide food shortages, inflated prices and growing public anger, according to The Guardian.
China also reinstated strict measures ahead of the Winter Olympics, with lockdowns affecting some 20 million people in January, according to the Associated Press.
Although both have eased border restrictions, the Philippines and Bali have also announced tougher local restrictions this year.