Indonesia, Malaysia and UK eye tourists

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Authorities in Indonesia, Malaysia and the United Kingdom are easing pandemic-sparked travel restrictions in a bid to welcome back tourists and foreign business.

Indonesia plans to start opening its borders in November once 70 per cent of its target population have received at least one vaccine shot, its health minister said on Tuesday.

In an interview with Reuters, Budi Gunadi Sadikin said he was taking cues from the strategy adopted by the UK, which he said prioritised rolling out first doses and had achieved a lower rate of hospital admissions and fatalities.

"So for us we concentrate on the first dose. If we can vaccinate 70 per cent of the target population of 208 million, if we can hit 140-150 million, 70 per cent with the first dose, then we can gradually start reopening," he said.

"And my calculation is that will be reached by November."

The November 2021 timeline is the first time a senior Indonesian minister has committed publicly to a dateline for reopening the country's borders.

Only foreign citizens who have diplomatic or working visas, or are eligible for other exemptions, are permitted to enter Indonesia at the moment.

Budi said border restrictions would be eased even further once 70 per cent of the target population had received two doses.

Cabinet ministers have also flagged reopening the resort island of Bali but no timeline has been set.

Social restrictions have been in place since early July but have gradually eased to allow malls, restaurants, cinemas and factories to operate at limited and conditional capacity.

Southeast Asia's largest economy, struck by one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia, has vaccinated about 25 per cent of its target population but Budi said vaccine rates would need to be almost doubled to two million shots per day by deploying the police and army to help dispense shots.

Meanwhile, businesses at Malaysia's prime holiday destination are gearing up to welcome the return of tourists this week as the country takes an early step towards recovery from a devastating coronavirus crisis.

Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands in the Straits of Malacca, will reopen from Thursday to fully vaccinated travellers as part of a domestic tourism bubble, with strict protocols in place to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.

Restaurant owner Esther Lee said she was excited the bubble was finally being launched.

"Finally we can welcome customers and this is actually our main source of income to actually survive," she said.

"We have... staff under us, we have overhead costs to bear so we definitely need dining customers."

The plan is similar to that introduced in Thailand, which started with the July reopening of Phuket, 220km north of Langkawi, to vaccinated foreign tourists.

Malaysia has yet to invite foreign tourists to return.

The UK will shortly announce plans to simplify its COVID-19 travel rules and make the testing requirements less onerous, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday.

Asked by a member of the public during a news conference about confusion over the rules for international travel, Johnson said: "It is vital that we do whatever we can to stop the virus being reimported, particularly to control new variants."

"We will be saying a lot more shortly about the traffic light system, about simplifying it and about what we can do to make the burdens of testing less onerous for those who are coming back into the country," he said.

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