Myanmar government asks tour operators to suspend travel services for Chinese visitors



Chinese tourists wear masks as a preventive measure against the coronavirus at the U Pain Bridge in Mandalay on January 30, 2020. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

Through Nan Lwin February 3, 2020

YANGON—Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MOHT) has asked travel agencies and tour operators to temporarily stop providing services to Chinese travelers planning to visit Myanmar, amid growing concerns 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 potential Chinese visitors to the country until the outbreak subsides.”

On February 1, Myanmar suspended visa-on-arrival privileges for Chinese visitors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

U Aung Aye Han said, “Despite the suspension of visas on arrival, electronic visas are still available. [to Chinese tourists]. They can still enter by applying for an electronic visa. So we are concerned about it. »

“We have also warned them not to provide services to those who may possibly enter on an e-visa,” he said.

On Monday, the MOHT held a meeting with representatives of a dozen travel agencies in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw that mainly cater to Chinese tourists.

“They must cooperate with us to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” U Aung Aye Han said.

“We hope that as the number of visitors from virus-infected areas decreases, the risk of infection in our country will be reduced,” he said.

Myanmar announced in October 2018 that visitors from mainland China qualified for a visa upon 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% of Chinese reservations have been canceled since the start of the epidemic.

U Myo Yee, president of the Mandalay zone of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, told The Irrawaddy that the suspension of visas on arrival will not prevent Chinese tourists from visiting Myanmar. He had noticed that some flights were continuing regular flights between China and Mandalay, he said.

“Moving [asking tour operators to suspend services] will significantly reduce the number of Chinese tourists. As far as I know, we screen all 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 main destinations for Chinese visitors to Myanmar.

“On the other hand, Myanmar’s tourism sector has been hit hard since the outbreak began,” he said.

On Friday, spokesman for President U Zaw Htay’s office said Myanmar had no intention of closing the border with China or banning Chinese visitors to Myanmar.

However, Myanmar officials are carrying out temperature checks at airports and border crossings. 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 December 31. The virus has killed 361 people in China so far. The number of infections rose to 2,829 while the number of suspected cases topped 20,000, China’s National Health Commission said.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency last week.
On Sunday morning, the Myanmar government evacuated 59 students stranded in locked down Wuhan to Mandalay on a charter flight.

Last Friday, Myanmar turned back a China Southern Airlines flight from Guangzhou with almost everyone on board after one of the passengers was discovered to have flu-like symptoms of 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 January 31. He was referred to the capital’s general hospital, where he is being observed in an isolation ward. Respiratory swabs were taken from the man and sent to a lab.

As of Sunday, Myanmar had yet to report any confirmed coronavirus infections inside the country.

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