Vietnam delays reopening resort island over low Covid-19 vaccination rate

A view from a beachside restaurant at a resort in Phu Quc island, Vietnam, on June 16, 2020.
A view from a beachside restaurant at a resort in Phu Quc island, Vietnam, on June 16, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI (REUTERS) - Vietnam has pushed back a plan to reopen the resort island of Phu Quoc to foreign tourists until November, after failing to meet targets for inoculating residents due to insufficient vaccine supplies, state media reported.

The South-east Asian nation, which is currently shut to all visitors apart from returning citizens and investors, has been struggling to speed up vaccinations to help contain a spike in Covid-19 cases driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus in recent months.

The authorities had initially planned to allow vaccinated foreign tourists to start returning to Phu Quoc in October to revive the tourism sector and prop up the economy.

"We have to inoculate residents here for herd immunity but vaccine supplies are falling short," the state-run VTC newspaper quoted Mr Huynh Quang Hung, the chairman of Phu Quoc City's People's Committee, as saying.

Last week, the island's authorities said an additional 250,000 to 300,000 doses were needed to achieve herd immunity.

So far, only 2.9 per cent of residents in Kien Giang, the province that hosts Phu Quoc, had received two doses, official data showed.

Overall, 7.3 per cent of Vietnam's 98 million people are fully vaccinated - one of the lowest rates in the region.

Phu Quoc on Monday (Sept 20) detected a new Covid-19 cluster after months with no local cases, though the provincial authorities said it was under control and would not affect the reopening plan.

The authorities said Phu Quoc would have a phased reopening over six months starting on Nov 20, with up to three chartered flights arriving a week.

Under the plan, the island expects to welcome 3,000 to 5,000 visitors over the trial period, with compulsory Covid-19 tests conducted by the authorities, VTC said in a report on Thursday.

It remained unclear if visitors will have to undergo a seven-day quarantine period as requested by Vietnam's Health Ministry.

Foreign arrivals to Vietnam slumped from 18 million in 2019, when tourism revenue was US$31 billion (S$42 billion), or nearly 12 per cent of gross domestic product, to 3.8 million last year.

The plans to welcome back tourists come as Malaysia last week reopened its Langkawi island to domestic visitors, while Thailand has opened Phuket and Samui islands to vaccinated foreign tourists.