Is Omicron derailing recovery plans across South East Asia?
At the end of 2021, countries across South East Asia were optimistic about recovery prospects in 2022 as aggressive vaccination programs edged local populations closer to herd immunity levels. The spread of the Delta variant had devastated economies, forcing governments to implement prolonged lockdowns and states of emergency. As infection rates started to taper off, governments accepted that COVID-19 has become endemic and made the decision to co-exist with it. They took gradual steps to reopen borders and developed procedures to find a new normal.
Targeting the year-end holidays, the countries were hoping to attract holidaymakers back to the region after two years. Thailand introduced a quarantine-free travel scheme, “Test & Go” in November to allow vaccinated visitors from a list of approved countries to enter the country. Singapore, the South East Asian country with the highest vaccinated population of 85%, set up two types of entries for non-nationals: the Vaccinated Travel Lane (Air) and Vaccinated Travel Lane (Land) or VTL.
Recovery looked to be a possibility until news of Omicron started spreading globally at a more alarming rate than Delta. The emergence of Omicron, a heavily mutated variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, startled governments since much is unknown about the new variant. The conflicting news on the effectiveness of current vaccines, and having experienced the first-hand devastation caused by Delta, prompted countries to quickly reinstate restrictions.
Besides encouraging booster shots, these are new restrictions that have been recently introduced across the region, putting recovery plans on the back burner once again.
- Issuance of new VTL ticket sales was temporarily stopped until January 20,2022.
- Effective January 21, VTL quotas will be reduced and are subject to further monitoring by the government.
- Foreigners are required to apply for entry visas via MyTravelPass/MyEntry prior to arrival, but arrivals from countries that have reported the Omicron variant will not be allowed entry.
- Automatic stay extension for foreigners is discontinued starting January 15,2022.
- After closing the border in March 2020, Vietnam started to allow international flights from nine destinations. So far, only five countries have resumed flights: U.S., Japan, Taiwan, Cambodia, and Singapore.
- Indonesia’s borders have been open to vaccinated foreigners since October 2021. Arrivals must complete a 7-day quarantine at a designated center upon arrival. The length of quarantine might be extended if the rate of infection is high in the country of origin.
- Arrivals from countries that have a reported high numbers of Omicron cases will not be allowed entry.
- A state of emergency was extended until January 31,2022.
- The Test & Go quarantine-free program was suspended indefinitely.
- Office workers are advised to continue to work from home until January 31,2022.
- The country is still closed and only foreigners with valid or existing visa are allowed entry.