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Lao govt mulls full re-opening for foreign tourists

VIENTIANE (VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN) – The government is mulling full re-opening of the country to foreign tourists after piloting the first phase of partial re-opening for targetted groups of visitors.

The Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism on Monday issued a report on the outcome of a recent meeting on the subject, which was submitted to the government for consideration.

The report recommended that the government consider fully re-opening the country starting next month.

The meeting recommended that visitors be required to take a COVID antigen rapid test and wait not longer than two hours to get the result, instead of the current test that requires people to wait for 48 hours.

“Neighbouring countries have adopted (the rapid test),” the report stated.

In addition, the waiving of compulsory quarantine is suggested for people who test negative.

The report also suggested that foreigners who have not been fully vaccinated could enter Laos on condition that they are placed in quarantine for not more than seven days.

Health authorities were recommended to prepare medical personnel to provide RT-PCR and RTK tests at border crossings and allocate treatment centres for COVID-19 patients.

The report called for the government to issue visas on arrival and electronic visas, to enable visitors to enter Laos more easily. PHOTO: THE STAR

The report called for the government to issue visas on arrival and e-visas (electronic visas), to enable visitors to enter Laos more easily.

Meeting participants called on the relevant sectors to improve and simplify the online visa application system on laogreenpass.gov.la, to further ease the entry process.

In addition, the meeting outlined an optional partial-reopening plan for the government to consider, in the event that the recommended full re-opening was deemed to be unsuitable.

This plan suggested implementing Phase II of the partial reopening, after the first phase began in January under the green (safe) travel programme.

It was recommended that Phase II cover eight provinces and allow entry at more border crossings, while unvaccinated tourists should spend not more than 14 days in quarantine.

Visitors must also provide a negative RT-PCR test result, with the test to be taken within 72 hours before arrival in Laos.

Meeting participants stressed the need to provide clear information regarding life and COVID-19 insurance purchase so that visitors know where to buy it, as insurance is required as part of Lao entry procedures.

Ministry officials also pointed out the need to ease entry procedures in general, including in relation to insurance purchase, the long quarantine period and the complicated online visa application system, as these were believed to have discouraged people from coming to Laos during the first phase of re-opening.

Since the government opened up the country to tourists in January, only 505 people have visited Laos as holidaymakers.

Full re-opening has been proposed despite the fact that Laos is facing a new wave of COVID-19 infections, with daily case numbers now exceeding one or two thousand – much higher than the figures recorded during previous outbreaks when lockdowns were imposed.

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