Thailand has employed several mechanisms to reopen the country starting in early 2021 with a quarantine scheme, then Sandboxes followed by different versions of Test&Go and now this could disappear entirely from June 1st.
The responsible government entity, the Ministry of Tourism & Sports, has said that they are looking at scrapping the scheme provided the caseload in the country decreases until then.
It’s somewhat difficult to understand what the number of cases inside Thailand has to do with regulating arrivals from abroad in an effort to drive up tourism arrivals.
Thailand was indeed the only country that allowed foreign arrivals relatively early on (albeit highly regulated) but they have now been outpaced by other countries in the region that have all but abandoned restrictive and punitive measures for visitors as long as they are vaccinated and in some cases tested before departure.
While other countries are now progressive in their approach, Thailand still maintains the Thailand Pass information system, a complicated booking system for the first night plus a PCR Test upon arrival that could see a visitor being locked up for a week or longer if tested positive.
The Bangkok Post is now reporting that the Tourism Ministry is looking at these measures with concern and intends to amend or abandon them in due time.
The Test and Go scheme and Thailand Pass registration are expected to be scrapped by June 1 if there is no surge in infections or fatalities during the Songkran festival in April, says the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said Thai tourism has to move forward after opening the Phuket sandbox in July 2021.
“Thailand started like a rabbit, running quickly last year as we reopened to visitors. We cannot let the country fall behind as many nations are opening borders and have fewer restrictions than us,” Mr Phiphat said.
The government and tourism agencies have to work together to propose further loosening of travel restrictions, allowing more tourists into the country, with a target of 7 million arrivals this year, he said.
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) recently dropped the 72-hour pre-travel RT-PCR test for international arrivals starting from April 1.
The next phase of reopening is expected to take place on May 1, with the RT-PCR test on arrival to be replaced with an antigen test kit (ATK) check conducted by a medical professional.
Mr Phiphat said the upcoming Songkran holidays will be a critical test for further easing of rules. The number of daily cases, including results from ATK tests in April, has to remain stable. An acceptable rate might be 50,000-60,000 cases, while the fatality rate should stay below 100, he said.
The ministry plans to submit an additional proposal in May to the CCSA after monitoring the situation in April, said Mr Phiphat.
Mr Phiphat said if the country fully reopens and returns to pre-pandemic norms, there would be no need to require RT-PCR test results from tourists. However, an ATK test should be administered the arrival day to maintain confidence locally and prevent uncertainty, he said.
Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Association of Thai Travel Agents on Thursday, Mr Phiphat said the ministry’s proposal regarding an end to Covid testing from June 1 still requires approval from the Public Health Ministry based on the caseload. …
Tourism revenue could reach 30% of levels recorded in 2019 this year, before improving to 50% next year and fully recovering by 2024, said Mr Phiphat.
He said the country needs to improve its ranking in the safety index. Thailand ranked poorly at 111 out of 140 countries in the 2019 Tourism Competitiveness Index, said Mr Phiphat.
There are several contradictions in this article as far as Mr. Phiphat’s reasonable plans and the reality in Thailand are concerned.
For one, they are talking about dropping caseloads while at the same time currently caving in to pressure from local business groups to allow an easement of restrictions during Songkran such as allowing water splashing, alcohol sales, etc. Let’s remember that the same situation exactly one year ago caused the Covid situation in Thailand to go totally out of control.
I can’t believe they’re seriously considering once again letting things slide that way, making concessions to operators in Khao San road and other party destinations. Thailand has been battered economically ever since Covid began but especially since the country experienced its own mass infection waves, beginning last year after Songkran. All outbreaks (waves) in Thailand have so far been connected to entertainment, be it a music festival in Phuket, fancy nightclubs in Bangkok’s Thonglor district, or last year’s Songkran Festival where people disregarded all calls for caution.
At the same time, the Tourism Ministry is pinning hopes on reducing or stabilizing cases. The current number hovers around 25,000 new cases per day. Yet Mr. Phiphat mentions 50-60,000 cases per day as being acceptable and “stabilized”!? Sounds more like he’s (realistically) expecting an explosion after Songkran and better sets expectations right from the start.
Then there is the outlook of abandoning Test & Go… but, but, but there HAS TO BE an ATK test upon arrival to “maintain local confidence”. Local confidence in a country that he says could carry up to 60,000 infections daily? That mindset of trying to please locals (who exactly?) needs to change as it’s nonsense.
When will these people start to consider it’s not about them but the confidence of the visitors!? This on arrival testing regime – no matter what kind of test – is keeping people from flying to Thailand.
Last time I wrote about Thailand removing the pre-flight PCR tests:
Effective April 1, 2022 there will be no more government mandated PCR Tests required for flights to or via Thailand. Travelers who enter the kingdom under the Sandbox or Test&Go scheme will still be subject to the mandatory, costly on arrival test that could go either way with this new situation.
It would have made a lot more sense to keep the PCR pre-flight test in place and instead scrap the test on arrival like Vietnam did it. This new system also increases the risk exponentially that you sit next to someone on the plane who is positive and later on you’ll be dragged down with that person as a “close contact”. I’m really not a fan of this solution.
I wouldn’t hold my breath that this is going anywhere but we all might get surprised. Countries around Thailand are currently siphoning off tourists from the Kingdom as there is a lot less risk attached when flying to the other popular tourist destinations. They might reach a breaking point where tourism arrival numbers are actually contracting again and therefore Thailand is being forced to remove the overly zealous regulations.
Let’s not kid ourselves: These approaches to relax regulations aren’t voluntary because times have forced the politician’s hands, not just in Thailand but worldwide. I said a long time ago that it needs just one major domino to fall for the chain reaction to start. As soon as the Philippines and Vietnam announced their opening it was game over. Thailand has no chance of keeping its rigid, xenophobic Covid entry system up and running. Tourists will take not that there are now better alternatives and book accordingly.
Thailand’s Minister of Tourism has announced that his agency would propose the removal of the Test&Go system but still keep an ATK test in place that is to be conducted upon arrival.
The Bangkok Post article mentions a range of conditions including a stabilized number of new Covid infections in Thailand itself which for some reason should serve as a precursor for reduced entry measures. In the mind of Thai policymakers, a country that’s rife with Covid can still pick and choose about their Covid entry policy while trying to grow tourism all while countries around Thailand are opening without any strings attached. Amazing!