HANOI (REUTERS) - Vietnam plans to reopen the beach-fringed island of Phu Quoc to foreign tourists from next month, the authorities said, as the country looks at ways to revive an economy suffering from extended lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The island, 10km off the coast of Cambodia, is expected to open for a trial period of six months, the government said in a statement issued late on Thursday (Sept 9).
Vietnam, which is currently shut to all visitors apart from returning citizens and investors, had managed to contain the virus for much of the pandemic but in the past three months, it has faced a surge in infections driven by the Delta variant.
"The prolonged pandemic has seriously hurt the tourism industry," said Vietnam's Tourism and Culture Minister Nguyen Van Hung.
Fully vaccinated tourists with a negative coronavirus test will be eligible to visit Phu Quoc, the statement said, adding they could fly to the island on chartered or commercial flights.
Foreign arrivals to Vietnam slumped from 18 million in 2019, when tourism revenue was US$31 billion (S$41.6 billion), or nearly 12 per cent of its gross domestic product, to 3.8 million last year.
At the same time, lockdowns in recent months have prompted companies to suspend operations. August industrial output fell 7.4 per cent from a year earlier, while exports were down 5.4 per cent and retail sales plunged by 33.7 per cent.
Vietnam will fully vaccinate all residents on Phu Quoc before opening, the Tourism Ministry said, adding that the island had not reported any community infections and had sufficient Covid-19 quarantine and treatment facilities.
Neighbouring Thailand has already partially reopened to foreign tourists, including on the resort island of Phuket, where about 70 per cent of the population were required to be vaccinated.
Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh conceded this month that Vietnam was facing a lengthy battle against the coronavirus, which has infected more than 570,000 people and killed 14,400, so it could not just rely on lockdowns and quarantine.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Ho Chi Minh City, the epicentre of the latest outbreak, has allowed restaurants to offer takeaway meals and shippers to operate more widely in a slight relaxation of a tough lockdown.