Myanmar government asks travel agencies to suspend travel services for Chinese tourists

Myanmar government asks travel agencies to suspend travel services for Chinese tourists

YANGON – Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MOHT) has asked tour companies and travel agencies to temporarily suspend services to Chinese tourists planning to travel to Myanmar due to growing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

U Aung Aye Han, deputy director of the ministry, told The Irrawaddy, “We warned them (travel agencies) to stop providing all travel-related services to potential Chinese tourists until the epidemic subsides.”

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

U Ang Ayhan said: “Although the visa on arrival is suspended, the e-visa (for Chinese tourists) is still available. They can still enter the country by applying for an e-visa. So, we are concerned about this.”

“We also warned them not to provide their services to those who might be granted electronic visas,” he said.

On Monday, the Ministry of Tourism held meetings with representatives of more than a dozen tour companies in Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw that mainly cater to Chinese tourists.

“They need to work with us to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” U Aung Ayhan said.

“We hope that as the number of tourists from virus-affected areas decreases, the risk of infection in our country will also decrease,” he said.

Myanmar announced in October 2018 that mainland Chinese tourists are eligible for visas on arrival. Since then, the number of tourists from mainland China to Myanmar has increased significantly.

From January to October 2019, the number of Chinese tourists was 593,658, more than double that of the same period in 2018, making Chinese tourists the largest foreign tourists in Myanmar, according to the Ministry of Transport.

According to the Hotel and Tourism Federation, more than 20% of Chinese bookings have been canceled since the outbreak began.

U Myo Yee, chairman of the Mandalay district of the Union of Myanmar Tourism Associations, told The Irrawaddy that the suspension of visas on arrival alone will not stop Chinese tourists from traveling to Myanmar. He said he noticed that some flights continued to operate scheduled flights between China and Mandalay.

“This move (requiring travel agencies to suspend services) will significantly reduce the number of Chinese tourists. As far as I understand, we have been checking all Chinese tourists very carefully at the airport. Hopefully these actions will reduce the risk of infection.”

Mandalay is the second commercial center of Myanmar and one of the main destinations for Chinese tourists to Myanmar.

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

On Friday, presidential spokesman U Cho Thay said Myanmar had no plans to close its border with China or ban Chinese tourists from traveling to Myanmar.

However, Myanmar officials are conducting temperature screenings at airports and border crossings. The border between China and Myanmar is 2,227 kilometers long. There are 14 checkpoints in Kachin State, Shan State, Kokang, Wa State, and Mongla.

On December 31, China announced the first case of coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province. The virus has killed 361 people in China so far. China’s National Health Commission said the number of infections had risen to 2,829, with suspected cases topping 20,000.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency last week.
On Sunday morning, the Myanmar government took a chartered flight to evacuate 59 students stranded in Wuhan to Mandalay.

On Friday, Myanmar turned away a China Southern Airlines flight from Guangzhou with nearly all passengers on board after one of the passengers was found to have flu-like symptoms of the coronavirus.

Myanmar was monitoring five suspected cases of the coronavirus as of Sunday afternoon, according to the country’s health ministry.

The latest case is a 29-year-old Chinese man in the capital Nay Pyi Taw who was hospitalized with fever, cough and runny nose after returning from Guangzhou on January 31. He was referred to Capital General Hospital, where he is under observation in an isolation ward. A respiratory swab was taken from the man and sent to a laboratory.

As of Sunday, Myanmar had not reported any confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the country.

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