As cases of coronavirus in south-east Asia continue to rise, travellers are beginning to ask: is it safe to visit Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and the rest of south-east Asia? Here we look into the latest south-east Asia travel advice.

With dozens of airlines cancelling flights, entire cities on lockdown and the Foreign Office warning against all but essential travel, the advice on whether British citizens should visit China is clear.

However, there is still much uncertainty among travellers as to whether it is safe, or advisable, to holiday in popular south-east Asian destinations like Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

One travel agent, Jack Ezon of luxury operator Embark Beyond, told Bloomberg that 75 per cent of his clients had cancelled their February and March departures to south-east Asia. “They’re worried about being anywhere close to the outbreak,” he said, “or getting stuck with cancelled flights if other hubs become infected.”

Below we break down the Foreign Office advice for the 11 states in south-east Asia, including Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, and crunch the numbers of confirmed cases of coronavirus so far.

Note that the coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing situation and the Foreign Office advice continues to be updated. Be sure to check its most up-to-date advice before travelling. You can follow our live blog here.

Is it safe to travel to Singapore?

The numbers

  • 117 confirmed cases, 0 deaths, 7 critical, 81 recovered (as of March 5)
  • 36 active cases
  • Population: 5.6 million
  • Annual international tourist arrivals: 14.7 million 

What the FCO says

“You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the local authorities.You will not be granted permission to enter or transit Singapore if you have travelled to mainland China within the last 14 days. From 4 March 2020, 23.59 hours local time, restrictions on entry and transit will also apply to all visitors that have travel history to Iran, northern Italy or the Republic of Korea within the last 14 days. In addition, travellers entering or transiting Singapore and exhibiting fever and/or other symptoms of respiratory illness may be required to undergo a coronavirus swab test at checkpoints. Short-term visitors who are identified for testing but refuse to do so will not be allowed entry into Singapore.  Check the Singapore Ministry of Health website for full details.”

Commuters wearing face masks in Bangkok

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Is it safe to travel to Thailand?

The numbers

  • 43 confirmed cases, 1 death, 1 critical, 30 recovered (March 4)
  • 12 active cases
  • Population: 69 million
  • Annual international tourist arrivals: 38.2 million  

What the FCO says

“The Thai authorities have introduced a number of measures to limit the spread of the virus, and additional measures may be introduced. You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the local authorities. You can monitor the latest updates from Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health on its website.”

Is it safe to travel to Malaysia?

The numbers

  • 55 confirmed cases, 0 deaths, 0 critical, 22 recovered (March 5)
  • 33 active cases
  • Population: 31.62 million
  • Annual international tourist arrivals: 25.8 million

What the FCO says

“You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the Malaysian authorities. Malaysian owned, and Malaysian based, airlines have suspended some flights between Malaysia and mainland China. If you’re due to travel, keep in touch with your airline as flights in the region may be cancelled at short notice.”

Visitors on the Sky Deck of the the Kuala Lumpur viewing tower

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Is it safe to travel to Indonesia?

The numbers

  • 2 confirmed cases, 0 deaths (March 5)
  • 2 active cases
  • Population: 264 million
  • Annual international tourist arrivals: 13.4 million

What the FCO says

“There is an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in China, but cases have been confirmed in other countries, including Indonesia. The Indonesian authorities have introduced a number of measures to limit the spread of the virus. There is a temporary suspension of flights between Indonesia and mainland China. Anyone who has visited China within the previous 14 days will not be permitted to enter or transit the country. You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the authorities.

“If you have existing travel plans between Indonesia and China, contact your travel company or airline for the latest information.”

Is it safe to travel to the Philippines?

The numbers

  • 3 confirmed cases, 1 death, 0 critical, 2 recovered (March 5)
  • 0 active cases
  • Population: 104.9 million
  • Annual international tourist arrivals: 7.13 million 

What the FCO says

“The Philippine government has announced that until further notice, entry to the country will be refused to foreign nationals who have been in or travelled via mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macao within the previous 14 days. This will not apply to foreign nationals holding Philippines citizenship or permanent residency, foreign spouses and children of Filipinos, and holders of diplomatic visas, who will all be allowed entry into the country subject to the required 14-day quarantine.

Bali is preparing for a tourism downturn after the coronavirus outbreak

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“Some flights from the Philippines to Taiwan, including those operated by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, have been suspended or cancelled. Check with your travel provider for updates. The Philippine Department for Health and the Bureau of Immigration are issuing information about the situation on their websites. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you should contact your airline or nearest Philippine Embassy.

Is it safe to travel to Vietnam?

The numbers

  • 16 confirmed cases, 0 deaths, 0 critical, 16 recovered (March 5)
  • 0 active cases
  • Population: 95.54 million 
  • Annual international visitors: 15.5 million

What the FCO says

“The Vietnamese authorities are implementing steps to mitigate the risks of infection, including health screening at airports and land borders. People showing signs of respiratory illness on arrival in Vietnam can expect to be checked. You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the local authorities. Anyone confirmed as having Coronavirus, including foreigners, can expect to be quarantined.

A shop in Manila, where face mask stocks have run out

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“The Vietnamese authorities have also announced travel restrictions and quarantine requirements:

  • As of 1 February 2020, anyone who has visited China in the previous 14 days will be refused entry to Vietnam. The only exceptions will be people with specific agreement travelling on official government business.
  • As of 3 February 2020, anyone already in Vietnam who has been in Hubei Province within the past 14 days should go in to medical quarantine. Anyone who has been elsewhere in mainland China within the past 14 days should self-isolate at home.
  • as of 26 February anyone travelling from the areas of Daegu city and Gyeongsangbuk province in South Korea or who has transited those areas within the last 14 days will be refused entry to Vietnam.
  • as of 1 March, some flights from South Korea are being diverted to alternative airports, some a considerable distance away from the scheduled place of entry in to Vietnam. You should check with your airline in advance.
  • as of 2 March anyone travelling from Italy and Iran or who has transited those areas within the last 14 days will be refused entry to Vietnam.

“The Vietnamese government has recommended that citizens wear masks in public, and it has introduced special permits for anyone seeking to organise large public events.”

What about the other south-east Asian countries?

There has been one confirmed case in Cambodia (they have now recovered), and no confirmed cases in Laos, Brunei, Timor-Leste or Myanmar. For all of these countries, the FCO advises that you comply with additional screening measures put in place by the authorities.

Do I need to self-quarantine after visiting south-east Asia?

The Department of Health updated its advice on February 25. Anyone returning from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or Malaysia – as well as Iran, parts of South Korea, Hubei province in China and Northern Italy – will have to follow clinical advice on their return.

This means that, if you have returned from these areas since February 19 and develop symptoms, you should call NHS 111, stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

What are the risks of continuing with a trip to south-east Asia?

Catching coronavirus

At the time of writing, there have been 237 cases of coronavirus in south-east Asia – a region of 655 million people. And there have been two deaths. In comparison, there have been 80,430 cases in China and 3,013 deaths. In Italy, there have been 3,858 cases and 148 deaths. These figures should be kept in mind for anyone worried about the proportional risk of contracting coronavirus in south-east Asia. 

Becoming stranded in a destination

This is perhaps the biggest concern for Britons travelling to south-east Asia right now. Many airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have cancelled direct flights to China. Others have cancelled flights to Hong Kong. As a result, a number of Chinese residents have been left stranded around the world, or forced to find alternative routes home. If there was a scenario where a south-east Asian country saw a significant spike in coronavirus cases, and airlines cancelled flights in and out of its airports, British nationals could plausibly find themselves stranded. This could, of course, happen anywhere in the world. Check your travel insurance before you travel.

Finding yourself in a quarantine situation

Following the coronavirus outbreak, thousands of passengers found themselves quarantined on board cruise ships around the world – including 4,000 passengers on the Diamond Princess in Japan. Last week, 1,000 holidaymakers were told they could not leave a hotel in Tenerife, after an outbreak of coronavirus. 

Would you get money back if you cancelled your trip?

If the Foreign Office changes its travel advice for the country you are visiting to “avoid all but essential travel” or “avoid all travel” and you have booked with a tour operator, you should be eligible for a refund, or your tour operator will organise alternative travel arrangements. If you have booked your holiday independently and a foreign office warning is put in place before you travel, you will have to check the terms and conditions of your bookings and your insurance policy.

If you want to cancel a package holiday to a country that does not have a Foreign Office warning in place, then you will not be eligible for a refund. If you have booked independently and the region is still considered safe by the FCO, you are unlikely to be able to cancel our change your trip without losing money. Your best course of action would be to contact your hotel, tour operator or airline to ask if you can change your plans.

Is your insurance valid if you travel to south-east Asia?

Your travel insurance will be valid so long as the Foreign Office has not issued a warning before you travel. If the FCO issues a warning while you are in an affected region, you will be covered as normal so long as you follow the latest FCO advice for British nationals. Some insurance policies will provide support if, when you are abroad, you are prevented from travelling home due to travel restrictions caused by coronavirus. Always double check your policy, and check Foreign Office warnings, before you travel.

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