Thailand plans to fully reopen to vaccinated tourists from countries deemed low risk from Nov. 1, the country’s leader said on Monday, citing the urgent need to save the kingdom’s ailing economy.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Thailand attracted nearly 40 million visitors a year drawn to its picturesque beaches and robust nightlife, with tourism making up almost 20 percent of its national income.
However, pandemic-related travel restrictions have left the economy battered, contributing to its worst performance in more than 20 years.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that the country would be reopening its borders to vaccinated tourists travelling by air from “low-risk countries.”
Of the 10 nations considered low risk, Prayuth named only China, Germany, Singapore, the UK and the US.
“When they arrive, they should present a [negative] COVID test ... and test once again upon arrival,” the prime minister said in a televised address.
After getting a negative test, “they can travel freely like Thais,” he said.
His announcement significantly loosens up current restrictions in place for vaccinated tourists, who must undergo at least seven days of hotel quarantine.
Thailand’s so-called “sandbox” scheme in Phuket — which allows vaccinated tourists to move freely around the popular beach island — requires them to remain there for a week.
Visitors outside of Thailand’s designated 10 low-risk countries are welcome, “but they have to be in quarantine,” Prayuth said, adding that more nations would be added to the greenlit list in December.
Earlier this year, Prayuth had vowed the country would reopen this month, saying that its vaccination campaign would be sped up to reach 70 percent of the population.
To date, 48 percent of Thais nationwide have received at least a single vaccine dose, while more than 30 percent have received two doses, health officials said on Monday.
The capital, Bangkok — once famed for its nightlife — is still under a nighttime curfew, as well as a booze ban in bars and restaurants.
Prayuth said authorities would “consider allowing alcoholic drinks in restaurants and reopening entertainment venues under strict health measures” during the New Year’s Eve period — previously a money-maker for the kingdom’s tourism sector.
He acknowledged his decision to reopen in less than a month came with the risk of more COVID-19 cases.
“But I think the people will not be able to stand it if they have to lose a second chance at this business opportunity,” he said, pointing to countries like the UK and Australia loosening their travel restrictions.
“The time has come for us to ready ourselves to face the coronavirus and live with it ... much as we have learned to live with other diseases with treatments and vaccinations,” he said.
Last year, Thailand lost about US$50 billion in tourism revenue as foreign arrivals plunged 83 percent to 6.7 million, from a record 39.9 million two years ago.
The kingdom is still registering about 10,000 new cases a day — largely fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2. It has more than 1.7 million cases to date and has recorded 17,751 dead.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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