Vietnam welcomes 1st tourists to Phu Quoc island after 2 years

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — More than 200 foreign tourists arrived on Vietnam’s largest Phu Quoc island on Saturday, the first to visit the Southeast Asian country after nearly two years of border closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fully vaccinated travelers from South Korea will spend their holidays in hotel resorts without a mandatory 14-day quarantine. They were tested on arrival, and once the negative results are returned, they can join activities on the island including sightseeing, shopping and entertainment events that require vaccine certificates.

“The program is among the country’s efforts to revive its tourism industry while reopening and developing the economy step by step under a new normal context,” said Nguyen Trung Khanh, chairman of Vietnam’s Administration of Tourism who welcomed the charter flight on the airport tarmac.

According to the Health Ministry, all staff members working in service facilities and 99% of Phu Quoc’s adult residents have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The island is planning to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17 next month.

Vietnam closed its border in March 2020, shortly after confirming its first COVID-19 case.

Since then, it only allowed only several international flights a week with foreign experts, diplomats and returning Vietnamese nationals. Those international arrivals must undergo a 14-day quarantine in designated hotels or government-run facilities.

Vietnam is the latest Asian nation to start opening up to fully vaccinated visitors. Thailand had begun by limiting tourists to its southern Phuket island before expanding to other areas, including Bangkok, since Nov. 1. The Indonesian island of Bali opened to arrivals last month with some restrictions including testing and a five-day hotel quarantine, and Malaysia opened up Langkawi island under a pilot bubble program.

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