EU delays decision on border reopening

Non-essential travel to the EU has been banned since mid-March. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 June 2020

EU delays decision on border reopening

  • The EU cannot agree on a list of “safe countries” from where travelers could visit Europe in July, with some member states requiring more time to decide
  • Non-essential travel to the EU has been banned since mid-March

BRUSSELS: The EU cannot agree on a list of “safe countries” from where travelers could visit Europe in July, with some member states requiring more time to decide, diplomats said Saturday.
After days of talks, EU envoys on Friday agreed to propose a list of 14 countries to their national governments, with the United States, where the coronavirus is still spreading, to remain excluded.
Croatia, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, requested that countries offer feedback by Saturday at 1600 GMT, with hopes the matter could then be put to a vote among the 27 member states.
“There are still ongoing consultations, which will continue until Monday,” an EU source told AFP.
“There is no visibility on where this will go, but the presidency still hopes to put this matter to a vote on Monday,” the source added.
The proposed “safe” list contains just fourteen countries: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.
Crucially, travelers from China would be approved to enter, but under the condition that Beijing would do the same for Europeans.
Non-essential travel to the EU has been banned since mid-March, but only after member states closed their national borders in confusion and without coordination as the pandemic grew.
The restrictions are to be gradually lifted starting July 1, as the infection rate recedes — at least in Europe — and some countries hoped for close EU coordination.
Whatever is decided in Brussels will exist only as a recommendation since border control remains a national competence and a limited number of flights to and from banned countries have continued throughout the crisis.
Talks dragged on with some EU members wanting to limit the reopening to countries with an epidemiological situation “comparable or better” than that in the bloc — that is with 16 or fewer cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks.
Under that criteria, travelers from the United States, Brazil and Canada would remain banned.
However, the health-based criteria has collided with geopolitics, with some countries reluctant to collectively ban the US while welcoming visitors from China, where the pandemic began.
The United States is currently the country most affected by COVID-19 with more than 125,000 deaths — while Europe believes it has passed the peak of its outbreak.


Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

Updated 40 min 44 sec ago

Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

  • As foreign visitors remain barred from entering the country, government plans to boost domestic tourism to keep hospitality sector afloat
  • COVID-19 has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to national revenue

JAKARTA: Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, a senior minister announced during a meeting with the country’s business community on Thursday. 
As Indonesia still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat. 
“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said during the virtual forum with Indonesian businesspeople, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11. 
Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak. 
Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.  
Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.” 
“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana told Arab News. 
According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.  
“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said. 
According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region. 
The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue. 
According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers. 
He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.

On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.