Government Signals Reopening With Resumption of Tourist Visas, Easing of Restrictions

5 min read
Siem Reap International Airport on July 11, 2018. (Oliver Dunkley/Creative Commons)
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Cambodia made its clearest signal to reopen the country to tourists after allowing for electronic tourism visa applications on a government portal. 

The government’s e-visa portal announced the resumption of tourist visas starting October 19, signaling the state’s intentions to kickstart the tourism sector, which has languished for the last 20 months of the pandemic.

“Cambodia e-Visa is pleased to announce the electronic visa certificate service ‘Visa T’ for tourists now is reopen for apply from 19 October 2021,” the announcement reads.

Keo Vanthorn, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, confirmed in a Telegram message to journalists that foreign tourists can apply online for tourist visas but that a visa on arrival was still suspended. Travelers from countries with visa exemption status could also enter the country with some conditions, he said. The e-visa website lists Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam and Myanmar as being exempt.

The resumption of tourist visas comes amid a slew of decisions made by the government to reopen the country, including Phnom Penh restrictions no longer listing a ban on gyms, sports centers and massage parlors or steam and sauna services. The Health Ministry last week dropped quarantine requirements to seven days from the mandatory 14 days for vaccinated travelers.

Prime Minister Hun Sen last month hinted at a potential travel bubble in Siem Reap where tourists can quarantine but won’t be confined to their hotel rooms and will be allowed to move around the temple city.

The decision to resume tourist visas comes as the country crosses more than 85 percent of residents with at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Daily cases have also plummeted in the last two weeks after Hun Sen ordered a stop to rapid testing, and death counts have also dropped in the past two days since the Health Ministry began reporting a breakdown of unvaccinated deaths.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said she had not seen any official notification about tourist visas but had heard the same information from the immigration department via association members.

She said tourism businesses had been waiting for this for a long time. She said that the sector had been decimated. Personally, she was still waiting to assess the situation before investing in reopening.

“We are already prepared with our moral force and spirit but we also want an actual announcement so then we can start [preparing],” she said.

And as the country prepares for tourists, the capital too relaxed restrictions last week, resuming alcohol sales and allowing for more businesses to reopen.

The city has achieved a more than 99 percent vaccination of adults, according to official estimates, and has seen life return to near-normal over the last few months. Residents are now being encouraged to get a third booster dose of the vaccine.

While a Health Ministry notification stated that those seeking a third dose only needed their vaccine card and an ID document to get the vaccine, VOD has received reports that centers are asking for a letter of invitation from the commune chief to get vaccinated. These letters were common during the first vaccination campaign in Phnom Penh.

Kong Sok Udom, Kbal Koh commune clerk in Chbar Ampov, said residents were expected to bring an invitation letter, mostly to ensure crowd control at the vaccination centers and to easily tally the number of people getting a third dose.

“It does not mean that we don’t allow them to get vaccinated but we just have them wait a bit after those with invitation letters who have already been vaccinated and it is less crowded,” Sok Udom said.

In a new notification released Tuesday, the government encouraged pregnant women, new mothers, the elderly and those turned away for having an underlying condition to get vaccinated and ensure they do not get sick with the disease.

It asked local officials to list out people who had not been vaccinated and the reasons for their reluctance to get the vaccine, but to also try and educate more people to get their doses. 

“Please hurriedly volunteer to vaccinate together to create immunity for the body and immunity in the community to prevent the attack of Covid-19, to reduce the seriousness of Covid-19 and to reduce the rate of hospital admissions as well as reduce the rate of death resulting from Covid-19,” the announcement reads.

Phnom Penh released new restrictions last week that continued the ban on cinemas, beer gardens, karaoke and nightclubs, discotheques and other entertainment venues. The restrictions apply for 14 days starting October 15.

The new rules do not place any restrictions on gyms, sports centers and massage parlors or steam and sauna services, as had been the case in older restrictions.

The amended rules now allow for gatherings of up to 50 people, except for religious ceremonies and funerals.

Businesses that are allowed to reopen have to comply with Covid-19 measures, like the masking mandate, use of the government’s QR code at entry points and other routine hygiene measures.

Violation of the guidelines could attract repercussions based on the harsh Covid-19 law or other measures like revocation of business licenses.

There is no estimate of the number of Covid-19 cases or daily deaths in Phnom Penh after the city, and many other provinces, stopped publishing their case counts or rapid test numbers. With businesses reopening, the government is also moving ahead with plans to reopen the country to tourists and foreign travelers.

Gyms across the city, which have been shut for almost the entire duration of the pandemic, were reopening this week. Alpha Fitness in Daun Penh posted a message for patrons that it would reopen on Friday but would require vaccination proof and enforce hygiene measures and masking.

A security guard outside Kevin Fitness in Tuol Tom Poung said the gym had reopened a few days ago though only a few people had returned, with the gym’s owner refusing to comment on the reopening.

The owner of Muscle Fitness in BKK3 said she had waited for clarification from the Health Ministry before reopening the business.

“Not many people have come yet and we did not open on Saturday and Sunday,” she said, and disconnected the call before a reporter could ask for her name.

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