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Vietnam has become the latest Asian nation to slowly push open its door to foreign visitors after more than a year of sealing its borders shut, reports our Asia correspondent Nicola Smith.

This weekend, the tourist island of Phu Quoc welcomes about 250 foreign tourists back to its white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, with reports in state media suggesting UNESCO World Heritage Sites Hoi An and Ha Long Bay will also soon reopen.

It may be a modest number, but Vo Thuong, who runs a chauffeur service, employing 12 people, said he was relieved the situation was slowly returning to normal.

“There have been no flights to the island, no guests coming… I have had a hard time in the past few months and hope things get better in the future,” he said in a message from the airport while waiting to pick up his first new guests.

Vietnam is joining Southeast Asian neighbours including Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia in taking tentative steps to allow the return of foreign visitors after their tourism industries were decimated by strict border closures to keep Covid-19 out.

In the first year of the pandemic, Vietnam was praised as a role model for controlling the virus, but when the Delta variant struck in 2021, cases surged beyond one million, forcing the country into prolonged lockdowns.

In the year before the pandemic Phu Quoc, which lies around six miles off Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand, attracted about 670,000 visitors, earning it more than $18 billion dollars from international arrivals.

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