Government AffairsGovernment leaders remain united in pushing ahead with tourism recovery; borders remain open with tighter safety measures.

Asia adopts nimble and tactical approach in managing Omicron variant

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On 29 November, Singapore and Malaysia's prime ministers met to restart cross-border travel under the VTL arrangement.
On 29 November, Singapore and Malaysia's prime ministers met to restart cross-border travel under the VTL arrangement. Photo Credit: Facebook/Lee Hsien Loong

After some 20 months navigating the Covid storm, global governments seem to have sharpened their emergency response strategies, and are also showing a quiet resolve to continue recovery efforts rather than shutting down economies again — as seen following the discovery of the Omicron variant.

While news outlets initially reported Botswana and South Africa as the first to discover the Omicron variant on 24 November, newer reports have surfaced indicating the variant was in fact already spreading in western Europe sometime around 19 and 23 November.

The US, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries have since joined the EU in restricting travel for visitors from that region.

But that doesn't mean a complete shutdown of global reopening efforts, with destinations such as Thailand, Singapore, India, Indonesia and more continuing to push on the recovery trajectory, albeit with more caution.

India is still allowing flights from South Africa, Hong Kong or Botswana, but passengers travelling from or transiting through these destinations have to undergo an RT-PCR test and show negative results before leaving the airport.
India is still allowing flights from South Africa, Hong Kong or Botswana, but passengers travelling from or transiting through these destinations have to undergo an RT-PCR test and show negative results before leaving the airport. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Arkadiusz Warguła

The region steps up safety measures

With precautions in place and in line with Singapore's plans to "live with the virus", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcomed Malaysian PM Ismail Sabri Yaakob at Woodlands Checkpoint one day later on Monday 29 November, as Singapore and Malaysia restarted cross-border travel under the VTL arrangement.

PM Lee said that Singapore must be ready for "more bumps along the way" adding his confidence that "eventually, we will find our way to living with the virus and safely resume all the things we love to do".

From 3 December, all incoming foreign travellers will have to take additional Antigen Rapid Tests (ART), at a quick test centre on Days 3 and 7 upon arrival — as opposed to earlier measures where VTL travellers need only take an on-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

In Thailand, foreign tourists continue to enter the Kingdom under its Test & Go scheme, although the government has urged more to get fully vaccinated in order to build up herd immunity.

Right after easing social distancing rules in November during the first of three phases, South Korea has now imposed a 10-day quarantine for all arrivals regardless of vaccination status. The Singapore Embassy in Seoul will share changes on the two countries' VTL arrangements — if any — when updates are in. The new rule will begin 3 December and last for two weeks.

Japan has withdrawn its initial orders for airlines to completely stop taking reservations for inbound international flights, after criticism mounted against the government's steps against the Omicron variant. The daily cap for overseas arrival has cut from 5,000 to 3,500.

Over to Indonesia, which opened borders to fully vaccinated travellers from 19 countries in October, now requires both local and foreign visitors to quarantine for one week upon arrival, up from the previous three days. Bali and Jakarta have also reverted community restrictions to Level 2 (from Level 1) — meaning restaurants are back to 50% cap.

As for India, which finally welcomed tourists for the first time in mid-November, flights from South Africa, Hong Kong or Botswana are still ongoing, but passengers travelling from or transiting through these destinations have to undergo an RT-PCR test and show negative results before leaving the airport.

The World Health Organization has listed recommendations for countries here.

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