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Vietnam’s cautious approach to international travel pays off

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In September, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh approved the reopening of some commercial international flight routes after being suspended since March. Selected routes to Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan were to be reopened from 15 September, and routes to Laos and Cambodia from 22 September.

The selection was made based on both the importance of those countries to Vietnam as well as their control of the pandemic at home. At the time, all countries had successfully controlled COVID-19. Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan are leading sources of foreign direct investment, and important trading partners and markets for Vietnam’s labour exports. They as well as Laos and Cambodia also have a significant geopolitical bearing on Vietnam.

The excitement of both passengers and the airlines was short-lived however. All routes were suspended again after just two flights from Seoul by Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air on 25 and 30 September, respectively. The reason was a lack of consistency in quarantine standards — especially those applied to Vietnamese passengers. Japan and South Korea are now experiencing spikes in COVID-19 infections.

The Ministry of Transport (MOT) explained the specific obstacles that brought all flights to a halt again. There was a lack of guidelines by the Ministry of Finance on fees to be collected from check-in passengers. There were also no clear procedures for handing over, managing and supervising immigrants between city and provincial governments and line ministries, with confusion for parties such as enterprises, factories and hotels. Most importantly, there was a lack of guidelines by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on quarantine and testing procedures applied to passengers. And finally, city and provincial governments had not widely announced the list of quarantine hotels, room rates, and their capacity.

The MOT has proposed a solution to address this bottleneck. This requires specific actions and coordination of various competent ministries and agencies and has made substantial progress.

It appears that everything is now ready except for the guidelines from the MOH. A recently released draft of the guidelines classifies passengers into three groups. The first group is Vietnamese passengers and their foreign relatives. The second group is foreigners who are specialists, investors, managers, international students, skilled labour, other designated individuals, and their relatives. The third group is foreigners who come to Vietnam as diplomats or on business for fewer than 14 days.

The main difference in how these three groups will be treated is the quarantine duration they must undergo upon arrival. The first group is to be quarantined fully in centrally isolated areas for 14 days. They have to show evidence of payment made for testing and quarantine services before boarding to avoid the disputes that occurred after the first two flights in September.

The second group can be quarantined for fewer than 14 days in centrally isolated areas, but still have to be quarantined at home until day 14. Both groups should have negative results within 3–5 days before boarding, fill in an electronic health declaration 12 hours before boarding, and install the Vietnam Health Declaration and tracing apps.

Upon arrival, these two groups will be tested immediately for COVID-19 and then tested again on day 14 after arrival. They also have to continue to supervise their health situation, report it via apps, and restrict contact with other people until day 28. The third group does not have to stay in a centrally isolated base, but they have to be tested every three days during their stay.

The MOH says that the draft guidelines are in the consultation process before being issued. When the guidelines will be promulgated is still unknown. The Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam will allow carriers to resume their flights as soon as the guidelines are available.

The cautious approach by Vietnam to ‘travel bubbles’ is not an exception. The idea of creating a travel bubble — where two countries with good records of controlling COVID-19 allow people to travel freely without undergoing quarantine — has been well received. But little progress has been made globally. Even when Vietnam resumes commercial flights, it will not create travel bubbles and quarantine periods will not be waived or shortened.

Vietnam clearly wants to maintain its exemplary record of controlling the pandemic, which is critical for its economic recovery. Over the first nine months of 2020, Vietnam’s GDP grew by 2.12 per cent and it is expected to be 2–3 per cent for the entire year, making the country the only major ASEAN economy with positive economic growth in 2020.

Revenue from international flights represents approximately 50 per cent of the total revenue received by Vietnamese carriers. But with COVID-19 under control, demand for domestic flights has surpassed the demand in 2019. With this record, the recovery of Vietnamese airlines’ domestic market is faster than ASEAN peers. It appears that Vietnam’s cautious approach is generating positive payoffs for its economy and airline industry.

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Travel & Escape

Christmas travel rules explained: From advance train tickets to travelling abroad from Tier 3 airports

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Q: Normally trains would be packed over the busy Christmas period. Do you have to get advance train tickets to ensure you have a seat? And what happens if a train is cancelled?

A: Sir Peter Hendy has been tasked with overseeing travel during the Christmas period by the Department for Transport. By analysing bookings and searches, the Chairman of Network Rail is looking at whether the current, reduced, infrastructure is prepared for a surge in passenger numbers with reduced capacity to ensure social distancing. The DfT is advising passengers to buy advance tickets to ensure they have a seat, and some operators such as LNER, are making them mandatory. 

On GWR services between London and the West, not all standard services will be reservable, but for those that are, GWR says “we’ll automatically allocate you a space if one is available or ask you to try another service if not. We always leave space on board for those with walk-up tickets, such as season tickets, or those who may have been disrupted.” 

Avanti West Coast is advising passengers to make advance reservations and has also relaxed its Christmas peak so that demand is spread over the period. It will be operating trains at 40-45 per cent capacity. 

Disruption is guaranteed on some parts of the network, with no trains operating from London Kings Cross between 25-30 December. LNER says: “Please do not travel to London on these dates. Trains either side of these dates will likely be busy.” It also advises against travelling on Christmas Eve and between 31 December and 3 January. 

GWR’s Night Riviera service between London Paddington and Penzance will pause between 24 December and 2 January. Engineering work is scheduled to take place on Northern routes either side of Christmas, too. 

If unforeseen cancellations arise, the Rail Delivery Group is offering reassurance that space is left on each service to allow for emergencies and cancellations. Agreements can be put in place with other operators, depending on the disruption, such as cross-acceptance of tickets. A spokesperson told i:  “contingency plans are in place and they will be very strong.” For example, if the last train of the day is cancelled, onward transport by other means could be arranged.

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Travel & Escape

Delta launching contact tracing program for international travel

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Delta announced Tuesday it will debut a new contact tracing program for international travelers returning to the United States.

The company said the program is in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program, slated to start December 15, will ask customers traveling to the U.S. from an “international location to voluntarily provide five pieces of data to aid contact tracing and public health follow-up efforts,” including:

  • Full Name
  • Email address
  • Address in the U.S.
  • Primary phone
  • Secondary phone

Delta said that under the new process, they will work with the CDC to streamline contact-tracing efforts by “directly and securely transmitting the five requested customer data points to the CDC via U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” Delta said this move will give the CDC access to the data fast, decreasing the time it takes to notify impacted customers. According to Delta, “by connecting with customers more quickly and providing public health follow-up, health authorities can help reduce instances of potential exposure and slow the spread of the virus.”

“Independent studies have shown that the many layers of protection Delta has already put in place are effectively minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and contact tracing adds one more important layer to our efforts to ensure safety throughout travel,” Bill Lentsch, Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer said in a statement. “We want customers to feel safe when they return to travel, and this voluntary program is another way we can provide additional reassurance to customers and employees alike.”

Delta recently announced a COVID-19 testing program that allows a quarantine-free entry into Italy for the first time. The airline also remains the only airline blocking middle seats during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Travel & Escape

Delta unveils ‘quarantine-free, COVID-free’ plan to resume international travel

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International flights are currently limited at Orlando International Airport because of travel restrictions, but there is some hope on the horizon.

This week, Delta announced what it’s calling a “quarantine-free, COVID-free” plan to get people from Atlanta to Rome.

U.S. citizens who are permitted to travel to Italy for essential reasons like work, health and education can take part in the innovative and experimental flight program.

Delta stated passengers will need to have a negative test result 72 hours before departure, then they will need to test negative with a rapid test at the Atlanta International Airport before takeoff, upon arriving in Rome and before returning to the U.S.

“Carefully designed COVID-19 testing protocols are the best path for resuming international travel safely and without quarantine until vaccinations are widely in place,” Delta said in a prepared statement.

The program begins Dec. 19.

Industry experts said they’re really hoping Delta’s new plan becomes some sort of a role model, saying it could be the key to safely restarting international travel.

“As the tourism sector tries to recover, to have that additional influx of tourists from outside United States would be a welcome occurrence,” said Dr. Sean Snaith with the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Forecasting.

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