Asia COVID Resurgence Shatters Travel Bubble Hopes

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A young girl has her temperature checked as she arrives to watch a drive-in concert at the Gyeongbok Palace parking lot in Seoul, South Korea, July 17, 2020.
Photo: VOA News

The coronavirus is reemerging in Asian countries previously praised as models of containment, underscoring the resilience of the virus and dealing a blow to the idea of so-called travel bubbles between countries seen as safe zones.

Vietnam, Hong Kong, Australia, and Japan have all seen the virus spread faster than ever this month, raising the prospect of a return to extended lockdowns. Mainland China, where the virus originated, has also seen a spike in cases.

Some of those countries had been part of discussions about travel bubbles, which were proposed early in the pandemic as a way to reinvigorate economies by reopening quarantine-free tourist and international business travel. But with the new wave of infections, even many proponents of travel bubbles are acknowledging the idea is unrealistic for now.

“It’s just a real mess,” says Ken Atkinson, vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board, which has lobbied the Vietnamese government to consider the travel bubbles. “I think we’re looking at some time into next year before we can really see non-quarantine travel from anywhere.”

Vietnam resurgence

To understand the difficulty of eradicating the coronavirus, look no further than Vietnam. Until this week, the country of 95 million people had reported only around 450 cases and zero deaths, thanks to its rapid quarantine measures and rigorous contact tracing.

Vietnam had gone nearly 100 days without seeing a local infection – a stunning accomplishment for a country that shares a long border with China. But even that sustained success wasn’t enough to prevent a COVID-19 resurgence.

Over the past week, Vietnam has reported 93 new cases as part of a wave of infections traced to the central city of Danang. Authorities have since evacuated 80,000 people, mostly local tourists, and suspended flights to and from the popular resort city, parts of which now resemble a ghost town.

In Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, bars and nightclubs have been closed and large gatherings banned. Many of the country’s beaches that had been filled with local tourists now sit empty.

“We have several drivers and tour guides and they are at home without work,” says Marcel Renes, who owns the Ninh Binh Tourist Center that offers tours and private drivers in the Hong River Delta in northern Vietnam.

With Vietnam’s borders sealed for months, many hotels, resorts, and other parts of the tourist industry had switched their focus to attracting locals rather than foreigners. But the latest outbreak has endangered even that.

“I have no idea what we can do now,” Renes says. “The borders are still closed, and I think for the next six months they will remain closed.”

The source of Vietnam’s outbreak isn’t clear. Since the new cases were discovered, Vietnam has cracked down on illegal immigration from China, although authorities have not linked any of the cases to unauthorized border crossings.

Read the full article at VOA News: https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/asia-covid-resurgence-shatters-travel-bubble-hopes

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