YANGON—Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MOHT) has asked travel companies and tour operators to temporarily stop providing services to Chinese travelers planning to visit Myanmar, amid growing concern over the coronavirus outbreak.
A deputy director of the ministry, U Aung Aye Han, told The Irrawaddy, “We warned them [travel companies] to stop offering all tourism-related services to prospective Chinese visitors to the country until the outbreak subsides.”
On Feb. 1, Myanmar suspended visa-on-arrival privileges for Chinese visitors to prevent the spread of coronavirus to the country.
U Aung Aye Han said, “Despite the suspension of visas-on-arrival, e-visas are still available [to Chinese tourists]. They can still enter by applying for an e-visa. So, we are concerned about it.”
“We also warned them not to provide services to those who could possibly enter on an e-visa,” he said.
On Monday, the MOHT held a meeting with representatives of a dozen travel companies from Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw that cater mainly to Chinese tourists.
“They need to cooperate with us on preventing the spread of coronavirus,” U Aung Aye Han said.
“We hope that as the number of visitors from virus-infected areas declines, the risk of infection in our country will be reduced,” he said.
Myanmar announced in October 2018 that visitors from mainland China qualified for visas on arrival. Since then, the number of mainland Chinese visitors to Myanmar has increased significantly.
From January to October 2019, the number was 593,658—more than double the figure for the same period in 2018—according to the MOHT, making Chinese tourists the top foreign travelers to Myanmar.
According to the Hotel and Tourism Federation, more than 20 percent of Chinese bookings have been canceled since the outbreak began.
U Myo Yee, the president of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association’s Mandalay Zone, told The Irrawaddy that suspending visas-on-arrival alone would not stop Chinese tourists from visiting Myanmar. He had noticed that some flights continued regular services back and forth between China and Mandalay, he said.
“The move [asking tour operators to suspend services] will significantly reduce the number of Chinese tourists. As far as I know, we have been checking all the Chinese tourists very carefully at airports. Hopefully, these actions will reduce the risk of infection.”
Myanmar’s second commercial hub, Mandalay is one of the major destinations for Chinese visitors to Myanmar.
“On the other hand, Myanmar’s tourism sector has taken a serious hit since the outbreak began,” he said.
On Friday, President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said Myanmar had no plan to close the border with China or ban Chinese visitors to Myanmar.
However, Myanmar officials are conducting temperature screenings at airports and border gates. China and Myanmar share a 2,227-kilometer-long border. There are a total of 14 checkpoints in Kachin and Shan states and Kokang, Wa and Mongla regions.
China announced the first case of coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province on Dec. 31. So far, the virus has killed 361 people in China. The number of infections has increased to 2,829 while the number of suspected cases has topped 20,000, China’s National Health Commission said.
The World Health Organization last week declared the outbreak of coronavirus to be a global health emergency.
The Myanmar government evacuated 59 students stranded in locked-down Wuhan to Mandalay on a charter flight on Sunday morning.
Last Friday, Myanmar turned back a China Southern Airlines flight from Guangzhou with almost everyone on board after one of the passengers was found to have flu symptoms similar to the coronavirus.
As of Sunday afternoon, Myanmar was monitoring five suspected cases of coronavirus, according to the country’s Health Ministry.
The latest was a 29-year-old Chinese man in the country’s capital Naypyitaw, who was hospitalized with a high body temperature, cough and runny nose after returning from Guangzhou on Jan. 31. He was referred to the capital’s General Hospital, where he is being observed in an isolation ward. Respiratory swabs were collected from the man and sent to a lab.
As of Sunday, Myanmar had yet to report any confirmed coronavirus infections inside the country.
You may also like these stories: