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The 37th ASEAN Summit held on November 12, hosted virtually by Vietnam, has culminated in leaders of the region jointly agreeing on a regional travel corridor that would facilitate necessary business travel in the region. This decision was arrived at in the hopes of speeding up the economic recovery in Southeast Asia. The group emphasised that the establishment of the travel corridor framework will extend on the de facto efforts of individual ASEAN member states in promoting bilateral green lanes.

A joint declaration issued at the Summit stressed the “need to develop a common set of pre-departure and post-arrival health measures to protect the safety of citizens and control the spread of COVID-19.” The declaration also vowed to use digital tools to promote tourism amid the coronavirus crisis. Thereby the coordination and supervision of the development of this travel corridor arrangement was handed to the ASEAN Coordinating Council, supported by the ASEAN Coordinating Council Working Group on Public Health Emergencies.

If all the member states give the go-ahead with the travel-corridor arrangement, essential travellers may be exempted from COVID-19 quarantine restrictions in the region. A possible extension of the framework to other categories of travel remains unclear since the pandemic is in different stages in the Southeast Asian countries. Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia continue to report over 1,000 new cases daily, while Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam are marking single-digit cases. Brunei has not reported any new cases since October 14. At present, even though most ASEAN members remain closed to each other, there exists a few reciprocal green lanes in the region between Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

Southeast Asia’s rapid growth over the past few decades has been due to the regional integration and mobility measures taken up by the countries in the region. In fact, it can be said that regional integration and mobility has been among the most productive areas of endeavour for the ASEAN grouping. The Southeast Asian Region’s economy, which was heavily dependent on tourists, foreign investments and trade, has taken a turn for the worse amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

A regional travel-corridor that encourages cross-border travel can be seen as a key facilitator to post-COVID recovery in the region. A regional travel bubble would warrant the development of a common set of safety measures and new health protocols, a step that would expedite the sharing of health and public safety information regarding COVID preparedness. Despite the uncertainty of events, as well as the challenge given the varying stages of the pandemic across member countries, a regional travel-corridor as part of the COVID-19 recovery plan is a step closer to achieving ASEAN’s long-time ambition of integration and harmonization.

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