The spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is forcing countries around the world to introduce tighter border controls and entry restrictions on foreign travellers.
Thailand has announced that it will be reintroducing mandatory quarantine for international travellers, while Singapore has suspended its Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL), which allowed the quarantine-free entry of international travellers into the country.
Japan and Hong Kong have closed their borders to international arrivals, while the Philippines and Malaysia have tightened testing controls.
Thailand reintroduces mandatory quarantine
Thailand has reimposed mandatory coronavirus quarantine measures for foreign arrivals, in a bid to control the spread of the Omicron variant.
The country reopened to fully vaccinated travellers from more than 60 countries in November. Arriving tourists had to take a PCR test on arrival and isolate for one night until they received their results. This so-called “Test and Go” scheme will be suspended for at least two weeks, with international visitors having to undergo hotel quarantine for 10 days if they are vaccinated and 14 days if they are unvaccinated. Restrictions will be reviewed on January 4.
The 200,000 travellers who had already submitted applications to enter the country and received a Thailand Pass QR code will still be allowed to visit quarantine-free, according to government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, but a second PCR test would now be required.
The Phuket Sandbox, which allows visitors to move around on the island while undergoing PCR tests, will remain operational.
Thailand has detected 63 cases of the Omicron variant this week, including one community case.
Singapore suspends Vaccinated Travel Lane
With immediate effect, Singapore has suspended its VTL, which allowed the quarantine-free entry of international visitors into the country. The programme has been put on hold until January 20, but entry for travellers from the UAE and Saudi Arabia has been deferred until further notice.
Visitors from 24 countries on the VTL list, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, the UK and the US, are still able to book tickets for flights arriving in Singapore from January 21 onwards, if available.
However, the government said it would reduce the VTL quotas and ticket sales for travel after that date. For flights, the total number of VTL tickets would be capped at 50 per cent of the previously allocated quota.
"Our border measures will help to buy us time to study and understand the Omicron variant, and to strengthen our defences, including enhancing our healthcare capacity, and getting more people vaccinated and boosted," said the Singapore health ministry.
Singapore has confirmed around 65 imported Omicron cases, along with a handful of local cases.
Japan remains closed to international arrivals
On November 29, Japan announced that all foreign visitors would be banned from entering the country until December 31, “as an emergency precautionary measure” against the Omicron variant.
The country had only started relaxing border controls on November 8, when fully vaccinated non-resident foreigners were allowed to enter for approved purposes such as business and education.
Philippines tightens testing restrictions
Philippines tightened entry requirements for international arrivals on December 16. All vaccinated passengers arriving from destinations on the country’s green list, which includes the UAE, Kuwait and Oman, must present a negative PCR test conducted within 72 hours of departure.
On arrival, they must undergo quarantine in a state-sanctioned facility and take another PCR test on their third day in the country. If this is negative, they must self-isolate for a further seven days.
Non-vaccinated travellers must also present a negative PCR test prior to travel, and must undergo state quarantine until a second test is taken on day seven of their stay. They must then self-isolate for a further seven days.
The current country classification system, which is divided into green, yellow and red lists, will be reviewed on December 31.
Hong Kong changes rules for returning residents
All non Hong Kong residents are barred from entering the territory. From December 24, residents returning to Hong Kong must have a PCR test taken within 48 hours of travel, as opposed to the current 72 hours. All travellers dubbed as Group A (high-risk countries) must complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine at state-operated and sanctioned facilities.
Malaysia tightens border controls
Malaysia has closed its borders to travellers from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, with some exceptions.
All other international arrivals must present a negative PCR test, taken within three days of travel, and undergo Covid-19 screening at the airport upon arrival. Travellers from the UK, the US, Australia, France, Norway, Canada, Denmark, India and Nigeria must present a PCR test taken within two days of departure and must wear a digital tracker provided by medical officers upon arrival.
All vaccinated arrivals must quarantine for seven days, while those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days. Prior to their journey, all international visitors must obtain approval via the MyTravelPass / MyEntry portal.
As of December 17, passengers arriving from the UK are also required to report their RTK-Ag self-test results daily throughout the quarantine period on their MySejahtera account.