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Coronavirus

Phuket, Bali and Danang resorts gingerly weigh opening up

Tourism-dependent economies strained but on guard against COVID-19

A worker cleans beach chairs in Bali. The Indonesian province recently dropped a plan to begin welcoming foreign tourists.   © AP

BANGKOK/JAKARTA -- Major resort areas in Southeast Asia are cautious about opening to foreign tourists over concerns that the guests could bring COVID-19 with them, despite the severe economic repercussions if borders remain closed.

Thailand decided Tuesday to issue special visas to foreign tourists starting next month, on the condition that they quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Visitors will be allowed to travel to resort areas such as Phuket after isolation in a government-designated hotel. Thailand envisions the visas being used for long-term stays, as they are valid for up to 270 days. Plans call for initially issuing about 1,200 a month.

But a proposal to let tourists visit Phuket without a visa starting next month -- including going to beaches within 1 km of the hotel even during the quarantine period -- was abandoned due to local opposition.

The new visas will bring Thailand's first foreign tourists since March. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday asked the public to support the move because it will help prop up the economy.

An official at a Japanese travel agency was unconvinced.

"I don't know how much demand there is [for the visas] since the number of people who can stay for the long term is limited," said the official, who is based in Thailand.

The Indonesian province of Bali scrapped a plan to welcome foreign tourists starting last Friday. Bali began receiving domestic tourists at the end of July, but the province could not reach an agreement with the central government, which has essentially barred entry by foreigners since April. Bali's government is unlikely to accept foreigners this year.

Vietnam is pursuing a full resumption of short-term business travel with some countries such as Japan, but it remains hesitant to accept tourists. New COVID-19 infections were found in Danang for the first time in 100 days during late July, forcing the evacuation of 80,000 domestic tourists and others from the resort city.

Southeast Asian economies depend heavily on tourism. The sector contributed to 12.1% of the region's gross domestic product in 2019, compared with the global average of 10.3%, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The slump in tourism has slammed the economies of key Southeast Asian nations. Thailand projects real GDP will shrink 7.3% to 7.8% this year, with Indonesia forecasting the economy to expand up to 0.2% or contract as much as 1.1%.

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