Int’l Passenger Flights Likely Banned Until October: Myanmar Vice-President

By Aung Thiha 10 July 2020

YANGON—Myanmar Vice-President Henry Van Thio says the country is unlikely to open to international commercial passenger flights until October.

At a meeting of the National Tourism Development Central Committee on Tuesday, the vice-president said that airports are expected to resume operations for international commercial passenger flights only after the third quarter of this year.

The Myanmar government has said that when airports can resume operation, it will announce the reopening of its tourism sector to ASEAN and Asian countries. The government also plans to take part in “travel bubbles” with Thailand and Vietnam, including direct flights to and from Myanmar.

“Travel bubbles” are exclusive partnerships between countries that have demonstrated considerable success in containing and combating the COVID-19 pandemic within their respective borders. The program will allow people to travel within the zone without having to undergo quarantines on arrival.

The vice-president also said that, if the initial travel agreements are successful, the Myanmar government will establish travel bubbles with Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong and Macao, as he said they have achieved considerable success in containing the coronavirus.

Myanmar has banned all international commercial passenger flights since March 31. The government has extended the ban a number of times since then, with the latest ban in effect until July 31. Relief, cargo, medical evacuation and special flights approved by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) as well as domestic flights, however, are not affected by the ban.

Aviation industry insiders have expressed concerns about the impacts of another possible extension of the ban.

“If the ban is extended until October, airlines, airport operators and all the tour operators would collapse,” Myanmar Airways International General Manager U Tin Maung Than told The Irrawaddy.

He said that, as airlines operate at the international level, they have to follow international procedures and thus one country alone cannot shut down its airports while others have lifted their bans.

“Our country alone can’t shut down. [The airlines] have to work internationally, so I think the vice-president’s remark is a bit previous,” said U Tin Maung Than.

Some countries in the region that have reopened to international tourism have adopted guidelines for foreigners arriving in-country, requiring them to present health certificates or purchase health insurance. Some countries have also set up labs at airports to run tests for COVID-19.

During the 36th ASEAN Summit, held online on June 27, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urged ASEAN countries to reopen tourism in their countries.

Union of Myanmar Travel Association Chairman U Naung Naung Han expressed a similar view.

“It appears that we can no longer wait for COVID-19 to be eliminated. By the time COVID-19 is eliminated, tour operators will no longer have a business. ASEAN countries like Thailand and Cambodia now only restrict foreign travelers when it is necessary,” he said.

Though Myanmar has largely reopened to domestic tourism, local tour companies are still struggling and many will likely have to shut down if international passenger flights are not allowed until October.

The Irrawaddy was unable to obtain comments from officials at the Ministry of Transport and Communications about the resumption of international commercial passenger flights to Myanmar.

The Myanmar government has also operated repatriation flights, bringing Myanmar citizens back from Thailand, Singapore, India and Korea.

As of Friday morning, Myanmar has reported 321 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 250 of whom have recovered.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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