September 26, 2022

Major Covid barriers in Asia Abandon border controls

Hong Kong – Two and a half years later Tight epidemic controlsSome of Asia’s last holdouts are finally opening their borders as they move to boost their economies and play catch-up with a world that has learned to live with Covid.

Hong Kong said on Friday it would drop mandatory hotel quarantine for people arriving in the city starting next week, following a similar move by Taiwan. Japan said it would drop its daily visit limit and fully open its doors to tourists on October 11.

This week’s flurry of moves has left one major country with tighter border controls: China, where the ruling Communist Party still clings to “Zero covid” principle. Travelers to China, mainly residents, face another 10 days of hotel quarantine at their own expense.

As the pandemic spread around the world in early 2020, many governments in Asia quickly closed their borders, with most places locking out anyone who was not a resident. Reopening is a grinding and slow process, as officials worry about the vulnerability of their aging population and fear their healthcare systems will buckle.

But the isolation has become harder to bear, especially as the rest of the world has fully reopened. Business leaders have increasingly pressured authorities in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan to rethink their policies as they face economic interventions that turn away high-spending tourists.

Last week, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said The end of the pandemic was “in sight”, underscoring the collective readiness of many governments to begin to imagine a world beyond Covid-19.

Hong Kong’s top leader, John Lee, said, “While we need to control the spread of Covid, I am determined to ensure that there is maximum activity in the community and economic activity in the community. , adding that the rules will be relaxed on Friday this week.

It’s an even more tacit acknowledgment that the tougher rules, closely tied to mainland China’s anti-epidemic policy, have come at a cost authorities are no longer willing to tolerate.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged the importance of international tourism to the country’s survival.

“People all over the world are asking, ‘When can we travel to Japan?’ are asking,” according to public broadcaster NHK, before the new rules were announced. Kishida said Wednesday. “Now, I hope they plan to go to Japan and taste Japanese cuisine.”

In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen said people were ready to reconnect with the rest of the world.

“It has finally come to the final moment of the pandemic,” Ms Tsai wrote on her Facebook page. “Now, we must make every effort to revive tourism, stimulate the economy, and develop Taiwan’s economy quickly and comprehensively.”

In the past two years, Japan and Hong Kong have missed out on hosting important global gatherings that are central to their identities as important hubs in the region.

The Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for August 2020, were held a year later, but only for domestic audiences. Big, splashy events such as Art Basel, the Rugby Sevens and regional financial conferences were canceled in Hong Kong as the city closed to residents and tourists.

Hong Kong at one point had strict quarantine requirements, with 21 days of mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival. On Friday, officials announced a new policy that will come into effect next week, requiring visitors to undergo PCR testing and health monitoring for several days.

Border restrictions have delayed the return of tourism in most regions. Hong Kong, once a top aviation hub, is “effectively off the map now,” International Civil Aviation Organization director-general Willie Walsh said in April.

While Hong Kong’s easing of Covid restrictions is unlike any other during the pandemic, the new rules will prevent visitors from visiting restaurants and bars during their health surveillance period, raising questions about whether it will be enough to attract tourists. On short visits.

In 2019, Japan took in about $46.1 billion from overseas tourism, according to the Japan Foreign Trade Organization. Almost all disappeared after the epidemic began.

Prior to its latest move, Japan had ventured into incoherence and, without much luck, embarked on a tour. In June, the government changed border rules to allow tourists who agreed to participate in guided tours booked through travel agencies. In September, it changed the rules again, but still kept the audience tight.

Things got off to a slow start: According to the latest government data, only 12,405 tourists entered the country in June.

Japan’s reopening could unleash a flood of pent-up travel demand, providing a much-needed boost to the country’s travel and hospitality sectors. Nearly 32 million international tourists visited Japan in 2019, three times more than six years ago. Government data.

But inbound tourism is unlikely to approach prepandemic levels anytime soon. Chinese visitors, who accounted for about 30 percent of Japan’s inbound traffic in 2019, have been severely limited in their ability to travel under Beijing’s strict Covid policies.

Domestically, Japan plans to promote tourism by offering government-subsidized concessions to Japanese citizens at hotels, restaurants and certain types of entertainment, Mr. Kishida said. It’s a revival of the so-called “Go Travel” program, introduced by his predecessor in an effort to boost domestic tourism after it was decimated in the early months of the pandemic.

All Asian governments need economic assistance.

Japan’s economy has slowly begun to recover, with shoppers filling malls and families eating out. But A decline in the yenHanging around its weakest position in nearly a quarter of a century has hurt domestic consumers.

In Hong Kong, there are thousands of small businesses They closed their doors, restaurants and bars have been unable to recover from multiple rounds of social distancing measures that have forced them to close for weeks or months. The draconian measures, coupled with the former British colony’s crackdown on free speech, have prompted young Hong Kongers, expats and multinational corporations to leave the city permanently.

Although Taiwan’s economy is relatively healthy due to its semiconductor industry, tourism has suffered. Taiwan restricted arrivals during the pandemic, and for a time, residents were unable to travel there.

“The dark days of waiting to travel abroad are finally over,” said April Lin, 36, a Taiwanese tour guide in the central city of Taichung. “This is much-needed rain for many in the tourism industry.”

Alexandra Stevenson Hong Kong and Ben Dooley From Tokyo. Hisako Uno Contributed report from Tokyo and Amy Chang Chien From Taipei, Taiwan.