Covid-wary localities vary travel rules, hinder tourism revival

By Lan Huong, Nguyen Quy   October 17, 2021 | 05:51 am PT
Covid-wary localities vary travel rules, hinder tourism revival
Passengers at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, October 12, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Linh
Not certain about the rules and conditions that they have to comply with in different localities, both tourists and tourism firms are hesitant to make travel plans.

Last month, Duc An, a Hai Phong resident, planned to take his family to the popular resort town Sa Pa in Lao Cai Province as a break after being confined to home for a long time because of the pandemic.

Based on instructions from Lao Cai’s health department, those coming from Hai Phong, deemed a ‘green zone’ with low Covid-19 risks, would be exempt from quarantine. His family would only need to furnish a negative Covid-19 certificate.

However, when An called the hotline of Lao Cai’s health department, he was informed that if his family moved through Hanoi to reach Lao Cai, they would have to undergo a seven-day quarantine. An decided to cancel his trip.

As of mid-October, Lao Cai has classified Hanoi as a green zone, but An is still hesitant and biding his time.

He said because of inconsistent travel regulations between localities, he is not sure if he will be isolated upon arriving in Sa Pa and returning to Hai Phong or not.

In line with government criteria on vaccine coverage and community infection rates, health authorities in Hanoi and Lao Cai have announced they can now be classified as ‘green zones’ with low Covid risks, but Hai Phong has not yet confirmed its pandemic risk level.

A government directive on assessing the pandemic level in each locality comprises two primary criteria: the proportion of people aged 18 and more that have been vaccinated, and the number of new cases per 100,000 people in a week. Based on these, areas are classified into red, orange, yellow and green zones - very high risk, high risk, medium risk, and low risk, respectively.

After several months of being confined to her home under strict lockdowns, Anh Thu, a HCMC resident, was happy to hear that Da Lat, a popular resort town in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, has reopened inter-provincial tourism starting Saturday.

Da Lat is shrouded in thick fog. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Ngoc Anh.

Da Lat is shrouded in thick fog. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Ngoc Anh

Tourists arriving from green and yellow zones with low and medium risks are exempt from quarantine, while those from high risk areas like HCMC would have to monitor their health at home or place of accommodation for seven days.

Thu, therefore, has postponed her travel plans. She is an office worker and can’t lose over a week.

The inconsistencies in travel rules and quarantine regulations in localities are also bothersome for travel companies who cannot confidently prepare tours.

Le Hong Thai, deputy director of the Hanoitourist travel company, said that localities were rushing to classify the pandemic level based on government criteria, but there were many problems, including the lack of specific announcement of pandemic level at each ward and commune.

"This causes confusion for travel firms," Thai said.

After Hanoi eased its Covid-19 restrictions, the company had proposed to organize tours with pandemic restrictions, taking residents to northern localities like Ha Giang, Yen Bai, Thanh Hoa and Quang Ninh.

However, the biggest problem the company encountered is that each locality has imposed different travel and quarantine regulations. They are afraid of welcoming back tourists from Hanoi where community infections are still being recorded.

Thai said his company has proposed that tourism authorities issue a common set of rules that should be applied across the country to help the tourism industry take off again.

Consistency a must

Nguyen Le Huong, deputy general director of leading tour operator Vietravel, had stressed at a seminar on Friday that unity and consistency of policies and travel regulations in the whole country is a prerequisite for tourism recovery.

Huong said though safety remains the top priority, testing and quarantine rules are different among localities, and if these differences are not removed, tourism recovery cannot happen.

Huong proposed that the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism work with localities to reach an agreement in policy to welcome back tourists.

She also said that localities should base their quarantine rules on the basis of vaccine coverage because the country has shifted from a zero-Covid strategy to living safely with the pandemic.

Vu The Binh, deputy chairman of Vietnam Tourism Association, said localities should prioritize vaccination for residents in economic hubs and tourist destinations to facilitate rapid tourism recovery.

Passengers will only travel again if safety is assured and procedures become as convenient as possible, Binh said.

With the pandemic situation under control, some tourism hotspots in Vietnam have eased social distancing restrictions and resumed tourism activities since early October.

While some localities like Quang Binh, Thua Thien-Hue and Quang Nam have gradually eased their quarantine and testing rules to revive the tourism industry, others still require tourists to take home quarantine for self-monitor their health upon arrival apart from negative test results for the novel coronavirus.

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