Asean puts off visa exemptions amid Covid-19

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An employee cleans a restaurant for opening as the Thai government announced measures to relax its restrictions intended to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Bangkok.
Photo: AFP

Asean nations will not discuss further about visa exemptions or visa fee waivers in the near future as they focus on their own recovery plans amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thailand’s tourism and sports minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said a consensus on this issue was achieved during a Special Meeting of Asean Tourism Ministers on Covid-19 via video conference on Wednesday.

He said the tourism ministers of the 10 member nations approved in principle the Joint Statement of Asean Tourism Ministers on Strengthening Cooperation to Revitalise Tourism that touched on reviving travel confidence following the outbreak.

According to The Bangkok Post, Phiphat said the regional ministers agreed to commit to a prevention plan, with each country sharing information through the Asean Tourism Crisis Communications Team, as well as seeking cooperation from international organisations together to revive the confidence.

“Recovery from the virus is essential before the tourism industry can restart in the region, so members are skipping any discussion of visa policy allowing Asean citizens to travel freely between borders.

“The visa facilitation policy will be reconsidered once Asean can contain the spread of the virus and travel restrictions in each country are lifted, allowing tourism activities to resume,” said Phiphat.

Last year, Thailand granted a fee waiver for visa-on-arrival (VOA) from Oct 31, 2019 until April 30, 2020 in an attempt to promote the country’s tourism industry. But the global spread of the coronavirus in March triggered a decision to cancel the VOA for 18 countries, including China and visa exemptions for South Korea, Italy and Hong Kong.

In addition, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has extended the inbound flight ban until May 31, while Southeast Asian countries, such as Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, also extended their suspension of visa exemptions for foreign travellers, including Asean citizens who used to enjoyed such benefits. Phiphat said the VOA for 18 countries was suspended indefinitely amid the uncertainty of the virus outbreak.

If a vaccine is not developed this year, all Asean members had agreed to implement shared standards that highlight social distancing practices as well as safety and hygiene in tourism services.

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