The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MOHT) is considering a blanket ban on all visitors from China to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 73,000 people worldwide.
If enacted, the ban would cap a series of travel restrictions on Chinese travelers. The MOHT has already suspended a visa-on-arrival program for Chinese tourists and flights from the city of Wuhan, and all Chinese visa applicants must produce an official document verifying that they have not recently visited Hubei province, where the city of Wuhan, the outbreak’s origin, is located.
Critics, including U Win Zaw Win, chair of the Mandalay Tour Guide Society, have argued that a blanket ban will only serve to worsen the economic damage the outbreak has already caused. More Chinese tourists visit Myanmar than from any other country, and more than 400,000 Chinese travelers helped Mandalay achieve record high tourist numbers last year. Likewise, the on-arrival visa program, which was introduced to several nations in 2018, helped boost tourist numbers from 1.72 million in 2018 to 2.14 million in 2019. Furthermore, border crossing restrictions and blocked trade routes within China itself have hampered land trade as exporters to Myanmar’s largest trade partner have not been able to deliver their goods.
On the other hand, proponents of the ban argue that strict containment measures would help Myanmar remain one of the only ASEAN nations with no confirmed coronavirus cases, which is though disputed by skeptics.