Following months of speculation, the ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations has confirmed it is indeed working on a standardized vaccine passport for travel in the region. A total of ten Asian countries are part of the association, including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Since Covid was first identified in early 2020, Southeast Asia has been grappling with recurrent viral surges and an endless loop of travel restrictions. While visiting the region has now become much easier again as more countries drop curbs, their ever-changing rules are still much harder to navigate than Europe’s or the America’s.
What’s Next For Southeast Asia Travel?
Like it’s usually the case with travel rules in Southeast Asia, the announcement has left tourists puzzled as it is not clear how the proposed vaccine certificate will co-exist with more relaxed rules that have been put in place in participating countries – especially those like Vietnam, where all entry curbs were removed.
Or, more importantly, whether foreigners who are not citizens of an ASEAN country would need to apply for a local vaccine passport, and how that would become operational seeing that Thailand, for instance, already struggles with issuing its controversial Thailand Passes, but here’s what has been clarified so far:
Officials Believe A Regional Vaccine Passport Will Make Travel Seamless
After months of a rumored ASEAN vaccine passport, health officials from different member states have agreed this week on both the mutual recognition, and implementation of vaccination certificates for resumption of international travel in the region. The agreement was reached in Bali, where entry rules have ironically been scrapped.
Sharing the news, the Singaporean Ministry of Health (MOH) stated ‘it is important to establish seamless travel across the region’, as countries in Southeast Asia still do not see eye to eye when it comes to pandemic-era travel. For instance, while some travelers still have to jump through a few hoops visiting Thailand, they face no restrictions whatsoever in Vietnam.
On top of that, some ASEAN countries do not necessarily recognize vaccination certificates issued in fellow member states, making international travel in the region an even bigger challenge for local residents, and sometimes even tourists. Grappling with a patchwork of entry rules when country-hopping in the region is no fun.
The Bali meeting, where health ministers and other senior officials sought to address these issues, resulted in member states vowing to ‘facilitate smooth international travel’. At the minute, however, ministers have not detailed how exactly foreigners, and Southeast Asians alike, can expect travel rules to change.
Dreams Of A Full Asian Reopening Seem More And More Unattainable
Implementing a mandatory vaccine passport would most certainly add to the woes of both unvaccinated and restriction-wary vaccinated travelers, while making the dream of a full Southeast Asian reopening unattainable. In order for that happen, countries would most certainly require a more relaxed approach to Covid, including treating it as endemic.
The fact that the collective is still discussing the implementation of a vaccine certificate, when countries like Vietnam and Indonesia have already outpaced others in fully scrapping entry requirements, is not an indication of that. Interestingly, judging by their statements, health officials in fact believe this will help boost tourism.
Besides a wider acceptance of an ASEAN vaccine passport for travel, officials also proposed a new ACPHEED – ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, an equivalent to the U.S. CDC and the European Union’s ECDC. In their words, this would help enhance the ASEAN response to public health emergencies.
What About Foreign Tourists Visiting Southeast Asia?
As mentioned above, Southeast Asian nations have different entry requirements in place, ranging from pre-departure testing to entry passes. Unlike the EU, which has moved towards harmonizing travel across the bloc in recent months, the ASEAN has not been as successful and the lack of mutual cooperation on border mesures is evident.
The Singaporean Minister of Health, Mr. Ong Ye Kung, expressed his desire to see a regional vaccine passport modelled after the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate. The certificate helped smooth travel within Europe throughout most of 2021, with the most obvious downside being foreign travelers were sometimes also expected to apply for a local vaccine passport.
Right now, we cannot confirm travelers will also need to apply for an ASEAN Vaccine Passport ahead of flying, besides carrying their own certificates from home. Seeing that the EU certificate is an obvious inspiration, any such development wouldn’t be a surprise, especially in Southeast Asia where Covid restrictions are stricter.
Vaccine Certificates Are Becoming The Norm In Southeast Asia
So far, Asian officials have not yet established how their system for mutually recognizing each other country’s vaccines, or an ASEAN-wide health passport will be put in place, but Ong did add that ‘checking for vaccination certifications may well be the norm for travel, just (like how) we check our bags and our passports’.
Ahead of launching its own vaccine passport, Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul expressed his support the proposal, stating that every ASEAN member should adopt a ‘standardized’ Covid certificate in order to ‘rejuvenate the aviation sector’. Other business and health groups also applauded the move, agreeing it will make travel ‘seamless’.
We will report back soon as more information is published, including whether tourists will need to add an Asian vaccine certificate to their expanding list of travel documents. For now, there is still unfortunately a lot fo question marks. For all the latest entry requirements in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, please refer to this page.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com