Myanmar Tour Guides Object to Granting Entry to Chinese Tourists With Health Notes
By Zarni Mann 17 February 2020
MANDALAY—The Mandalay Tourist Guide Society (MTGS) on Monday opposed any move to allow mainland Chinese tourists who have health clearance letters to enter the country, as the death toll from COVID19, also known as the novel coronavirus, reached 1,770 in China.
The idea of obtaining health assurance letters from Chinese tourists as a condition of entering the country emerged following a meeting earlier this month at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between ministry officials and representatives of travel associations and hotels.
A letter circulated on Feb. 13 by the Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) included instructions issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hotels and travel agencies it said was aimed at combating the spread of COVID19.
The UMTA’s letter cited the ministry’s orders to travel associations and hotel operators to distribute health information and prepare quarantine rooms and other healthcare facilities at hotels, along with an instruction to travel agencies to obtain health assurances from Chinese tourists before arranging tours.
“There will be fees resulting from the cancellation of tours booked by Chinese tourists, so travel agencies must seek assurances of the health of Chinese tourists,” said the letter.
In its statement issued on Monday, the Mandalay Tour Guide Society (MTGS) expressed concern over the spread of coronavirus and voiced disagreement with the idea of allowing Chinese tourists to enter on the basis of presenting health letters.
The MTGS said that rather than trying to limit the spread of the virus, the instruction to travel agencies to seek health certificates or health assurance documents could be aimed at finding a way to allow previously booked Chinese tours into the country, thereby avoiding the need to pay compensation or cancellation fees.
“The authorities may be thinking about the impact of the travel ban on Chinese tourists on the country’s tourism [sector]. But we cannot accept this plan, which risks the health of the whole country and is only concerned about money. We strongly oppose this plan,” Ko Zin Min Khaing, the vice chairman of MTGS, told The Irrawaddy.
“The instruction said travel agencies need to obtain health assurance letters from tourists. But what assurances can we get from a piece of paper that they [the tourists] are really clear of the virus?” he added.
The MTGS said the authorities should not allow Chinese tourists to visit Myanmar until the COVID19 outbreak is over.
“We also urge the authorities to rethink this, and that tour guides not provide travel services to Chinese tourists until it is safe and until the World Health Organization announces the virus is under control and that it is safe to travel,” he said.
The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism told The Irrawaddy that it is reviewing the situation and is taking steps to ensure there is no impact on the health of citizens and the tourism industry.
“The ministry is reviewing the case. Since this is a health matter for the whole country, there will be impacts, but the ministry is reviewing it to make sure there will be no impact on health or the tourism industry,” said an official from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Myanmar received more than 300,000 Chinese tourists in 2018 and more than 750,000 in 2019.
Early this month the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism instructed travel agencies to suspend offering travel services to Chinese tourists, and suspended the issuance of visas on arrival for Chinese travelers.
Along with China Eastern Airlines, which operated direct flights from virus-hit Wuhan to Yangon and Mandalay, flights operated by other carriers that fly between Myanmar and China, including China Southern Airlines, Kunming Airlines, Air China, Myanma Airways International and Myanmar National Airlines, were also banned.
As of Feb. 17, the death toll in China from the coronavirus stood at 1,770, with more than 70,500 people infected in China, according to the Chinese National Health Commission. Five people have died outside of China due to COVID19, which has spread to 25 countries including Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Australia, France, Germany, the US and Canada.
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