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BGA analysis on how COVID-19 is shaping the region’s current and future course
“The Covid-19 pandemic is a test of global solidarity and global leadership. The virus thrives on division but is thwarted when we unite.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
World Health Organization Director-General
April 22, 2021
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
As Asia-Pacific countries begin to ramp up their vaccination programs, some governments are cautiously reopening their borders and easing travel restrictions to facilitate economic recovery and a return to normalcy. Tourism accounts for a large share of GDP in many of the markets BGA covers, and authorities in those countries are now weighing the best way to encourage limited travel while keeping their populations safe.
Travel authorities in most Asia-Pacific countries continue to impose 14-day quarantines on visitors and require negative Covid-19 results from tests administered within 72 hours of departure for their new destination. Some are considering vaccine passports and have already introduced two sets of requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers, though this has not eliminated the need for quarantining. Countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand are considering or have already eased travel restrictions for certain provinces or districts to promote localized domestic and international tourism. Other countries, like China, India and the Philippines, have adopted stricter requirements for large metropolitan areas to prevent a large-scale viral outbreak.
Despite efforts to resurrect the travel and tourism industry, recent Covid surges — particularly in South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia — have delayed plans to open travel corridors between countries. Though there are many such “travel bubble” arrangements on hold, only a few are operational in Australia, New Zealand and India. This will likely change in the coming weeks, with Singapore and Hong Kong taking steps to conclude a travel bubble agreement of their own very soon.
A complete reopening of Asia-Pacific countries will not happen anytime soon, and governments will likely continue to pursue a wait-and-see approach until they are confident that they have reached herd immunity. As a greater percentage of their populations are vaccinated, countries in the region can be expected to gradually lift restrictions and introduce pilot travel arrangements with some countries and maintain more stringent requirements with others, especially those experiencing fresh outbreaks of more dangerous Covid-19 strains.
Questions and comments are welcome and can be directed to BGA Head of Research Murray Hiebert at email@example.com.
Director of Research, BowerGroupAsia
How Will Covid-19 Reshape Asia’s Security?
As BGA’s ongoing Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19 report series as demonstrated, the pandemic has reshaped a range of sectors in the region with important implications for companies, governments, and publics. Among these, few have attracted more headlines than the defense space, which was the subject of our report released in late August.
The report focuses on five key Indo-Pacific states from across the region – Australia, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Thailand. It delves into not just the trends and developments affecting these countries today, but how their responses are affecting their postures, alignments, and purchasing decisions with implications that will last for years to come.
The report highlights some general trends as well as some country-specific findings. On the former, while the pandemic has led all five of these countries to reexamine their strategic calculus and boost their domestic defense capabilities in some way, there are also some key differences that come across with respect to how they are adjusting their defense spending, how they have adjusted their alignments, and the degree to which they have used their security forces in responding to aspects of the pandemic.
On the latter, each of the country cases reinforce the importance of understanding the nuances of evolving national responses, which is at the core of BGA’s research process. Australia’s defense approach amid Covid-19 has been notably comprehensive, with keen attention to not only offensive military capabilities but also securing its economy and supply chains. India has had to juggle contending with the pandemic and active border tensions with China and Pakistan, and that has only reinforced existing areas of focus such as strengthening ties with like-minded democracies. And in Indonesia, the pandemic has changed the focus of the Ministry of Defense from “hard” security issues to a broader set of national security issues, including ensuring security and accelerating the national effort to mobilize available resources to produce critically needed health equipment such as ventilators.
To be sure, as with other sectors, the exact impact of the pandemic on the defense sector will be difficult to forecast precisely since it is still playing out across the Indo-Pacific region. But as the report illustrates, Covid-19 is already changing not just specific budget numbers or purchases that are the focus of headlines, but also how countries are thinking about the idea of security itself.
Managing Travel in the Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19
While Covid-19 had initially made it difficult for people across the world to travel, countries and companies alike have since been thinking through ways to both manage existing challenges as well as position themselves for future opportunities while keeping safety top of mind.
In a recent column for The Kathmandu Post, BGA Senior Advisor Sujeev Shakya offers some insights as to how countries are coping with this new normal and looking ahead. In the piece, Shakya notes that it is not surprising that instances of forward-thinking have come from extremely trade-reliant and agile countries such as Singapore. “Countries like Dubai and Singapore know a good part of their economy depends on being a transit air point for air passengers. They are quick to get processes done and make people feel welcome.”
But there are also cases outside of Asia that might have lessons for countries within the region to learn from. Fresh off of a trip to Rwanda – one of the first countries to declare itself open to tourists since the pandemic hit – he notes that while challenges and constraints do continue to exist, there have been clear efforts to manage aspects such as Covid-19 testing and information sharing. This opportunity is no coincidence, says Shakya, because Rwanda knows it “can make good facilitation and service a comparative advantage – continuing to push their image as an emerging hub in Africa.”
Shakya notes that these are lessons that some developing Asian countries looking to position themselves can learn from as well, including Nepal where he is based. “The country that can manage this will be the new destination for tourism, investment and economic activities,” he argues. “Nepal needs to learn from countries like Rwanda on how good planning and execution are a must.”
In a reflection of these on the ground developments, BGA’s Asia teams have been monitoring how countries and companies are adjusting to travel and tourism amid Covid-19 and looking beyond it as well. For more, check out some of the previous reports the company has been releasing since June as part of what is now being termed as its Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19 series.