KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called on Southeast Asian countries to accelerate plans to create a regional tourism corridor to help revive tourism and accelerate recovery from the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
Citing data from the UN and the World Trade Organization, Widodo said on Monday that the level of restrictions in Southeast Asia was the highest in the world. With the decline in coronavirus cases in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he said, those restrictions should be loosened so that people can travel more freely.
Speaking at a regional business forum, Widodo called for the immediate implementation of a regional travel corridor, a concept initiated by Indonesia in 2020 that will, among other things, include faster immigration corridors, recognition of vaccine certifications, and standardized health measures at departure and arrival.
“After 20 months of facing the terrifying COVID-19 pandemic, we now see a light of hope. Over the past week, the number of COVID-19 cases in ASEAN has dropped by 14%, well above the global average, which fell by 1%, ”he said at a forum organized ahead of the three-day ASEAN Leaders’ Summit starting Tuesday.
“As the COVID-19 situation becomes more controllable, these restrictions can be eased, mobility can be reduced, and the risk of a pandemic can be secured,” he said.
“If all ASEAN countries immediately ensure safe mobility for people, the wheels of the economy will soon start working again,” he said.
Travel within ASEAN typically accounts for about 40% of travel in the region and is the key to a resurgence of tourism in the region.
Several countries, including Thailand, are cautiously moving towards opening up to international tourism.
Indonesia reopened its resort island Bali to foreign tourists this month after more than 80% of its population has been fully vaccinated. Widodo said the government will gradually open up other areas in the country where vaccination rates exceed 70%. To date, about a third of the population in Indonesia has been fully vaccinated.
Widodo called for a more even distribution of vaccines to ensure that at least 70% of the more than 600 million people in ASEAN are vaccinated. Vaccinations across the region are uneven, with Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia advancing the fastest, with over 70% of the population vaccinated, while Myanmar is at the bottom with less than 10% vaccinated.
Widodo said ASEAN, as the region with the fastest growing Internet use in the world, must also expand its digital economy for future growth. According to him, the value of Indonesia’s digital economy is expected to reach $ 124 billion in 2025, accounting for 40% of the total value of Southeast Asia’s digital economy.
“Our quick joint steps to tackle health problems, resume safe travel, and accelerate a just digital economy will be our common gateway to joint recovery and development,” he added.
ASEAN leaders will hold a three-day annual summit starting Tuesday. Myanmar’s top general, whose forces seized power in February, was not invited for failing to act to end the deadly violence that followed the military takeover.