Similar to Thailand's 'Phuket Sandbox' scheme, Vietnam's six-month pilot program will see tourism restricted to Phu Quoc (an island off the country's southwestern coast near Cambodia) and implemented in phases in order to minimize the risk of transmission. The first phase will run for three months and will see about 2000 to 3000 visitors per month travel to a Phu Quoc on chartered flights. Not all of the island will be open at this time and visitors will be taken to designated accommodation and entertainment sites.
The second phase will see visitor numbers increase to 5000 to 10,000 for another three months, with passengers permitted to travel on commercial flights. More of the island will have reopened by that stage to allow people to experience the white-sand beaches, dense tropical jungles, food markets and laid-back resorts of Phu Quoc on a larger scale. The pilot program coincides with Phu Quoc's dry season, which typically runs from November until March.
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"The purpose of this programe is to gradually restore the international tourism market and the tourism industry while promoting Vietnam as a safe and attractive destination with effective pandemic prevention and control measures," officials said in a statement.
Visitors will need to show proof of full vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 to visit Phu Quoc, in addition to presenting a negative result from a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before flying. According to CNN, Phu Quoc has not reported any community infections and it has sufficient quarantine and public health services to deal with any outbreaks.
To facilitate the pilot program, the tourist board said the Vietnam Safe Travel app has been updated with an English language option. It will also have a vaccination certification system that should allow passengers to upload their COVID-19 so that the information can be easily scanned at the border.
Until recently, Vietnam was one of the world’s top performers at fighting the coronavirus. But the Delta variant and a shortage of vaccine supplies have caused a surge in infections. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are currently under lockdown, and NPR reports that only 4% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Although officials expect 50 million doses to be delivered by the end of September as they double down on efforts to speed up the vaccination campaign.
Vietnam closed its tourism industry in March 2020 to shut out COVID-19. Borders have been sealed tight since, and only Vietnamese nationals, foreigners on diplomatic or official business, and highly skilled workers have been permitted to enter Vietnam.
Those border rules will be eased at Phu Quoc but it is not yet clear when Vietnam will open the rest of the country up for tourism. An exact date for the launch of the Phu Quoc pilot program has not been announced either but it is likely to begin in November. This article will be updated when more information becomes available.