ASEAN leaders discuss opening the region for business travel – Palace

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 26) — Several Southeast Asian leaders supported the reopening of the region to business travelers as the current chair of their 10-member bloc on Friday noted the "heavy toll" of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.

The spokesperson of President Rodrigo Duterte, Harry Roque, said this proposal was discussed during the 36th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, the first regular ASEAN Summit held virtually and hosted by current chair Vietnam.

"Nadiskurso na ng at least 3 heads of state, kung pupwede nang buksan sa rehiyon natin ang business travel subject to quarantine and health restrictions," he said in a regular media briefing.

[Translation: At least three heads of state raised the possibility of opening the Southeast Asian region for business travel, as long as quarantine and health restrictions are observed.]

In the Philippines, foreign nationals with some exceptions like diplomats and foreign spouses of Filipinos are still prohibited from entering the country following strict travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

ASEAN Chair Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc noted the importance of crafting a comprehensive post-pandemic recovery plan for ASEAN members to help address the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 by reinforcing trade and investment; cooperation in the digital economy; supporting micro, small and medium enterprises; and innovation. He said this includes the implementation of initiatives to boost the region's reserve of medical supplies and drawing up standard operating procedure for public health emergencies.

"We need to maintain good control over the pandemic. We should promptly repair the damage and revitalize our economy and resume economic development," Phuc said during the opening ceremony.

Duterte called for a sustainable plan to build a regional fund to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and help ASEAN members bounce back from the economic impact of the health crisis that has been affecting the world for at least six months now.

"I welcome your plan of action for strengthening economic cooperation. I join the leaders in asking our ministers to craft a recovery plan that is innovative and ambitious and one that will lead us to a greener and sustainable future," he said in his address.

Southeast Asian nations have been impacted by the pandemic differently, with hard-hit Indonesia grappling with more than 50,000 infections and more than 2,600 deaths, while Laos only has 19 cases who have all recovered.

Duterte also pointed to another threat that continues despite the COVID-19 pandemic: Terrorism.

"We must never forget there are also other threats that can further undermine our efforts. The pandemic has not killed terrorism. It remains alive, lurking in the shadows. As a time of great need, we must therefore be always on the alert," he said.