Thailand may scrap its two-week mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors with proof of COVID-19 vaccination as the nation seeks to revive its pandemic-hit tourism industry.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said on Tuesday his government would consider allowing visitors who could produce a vaccination certificate to skip the quarantine and authorities would come up with a plan to track them during their stay.
The plan to ease rules for tourists signals a shift in the government’s stance after months of insisting all visitors must stay in quarantine in the absence of enough evidence that inoculations can prevent virus transmission. If implemented, the move could bolster the tourism sector that contributed about one-fifth to the nation’s pre-pandemic economy. Last year tourism revenue dropped by 83 per cent as the number of tourists dropped from 40 million visitors in 2019 to 6.7 million.
Thailand has kept the number of coronavirus cases to 25,599 infections and 83 fatalities by sealing off its borders.
“If this goes ahead as planned, it will be a big boost to tourism and economy,” Nattaporn Triratanasirikul, an economist at Kasikorn Research Centre in Bangkok, said adding the government may need to weigh health concerns too. “There is still a very high uncertainty on the economic outlook this year, pending all the issues related to the outbreak from local infections, vaccine rollouts and border reopening plan.”
In the meantime, the country has started a special quarantine program for golfers. Forty South Koreans are undergoing quarantine at Artitaya Country Club, an hour north of Bangkok, where they were tested on arrival, Tourism Authority of Thailand deputy governor, Thapanee Kiatphaibool, told Reuters.
They are staying in their hotel rooms for three days and can go out on the course after results from their first coronavirus test come back negative.
They are tested again on the ninth and 13th days of their stay before being discharged from quarantine.
The program is drawing only a small fraction of around 250,000 South Korean golfers who visited Thailand in 2019, but officials hope it will grow at the six approved courses which have specific health measures in place.
“There have been continuous bookings,” Thapanee said, adding the program started by targeting short-haul markets carrying low to moderate risks such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
Each golfer in the program would generate revenue of at least 100,000 baht ($4200), she said.
“Tourists could go and enjoy other destinations after quarantine, so there will be more revenue of at least two to three times the average.”
While Thailand has reopened its borders to most foreign visitors since October, strict quarantine rules have kept most tourists away. The local industry has been calling for relaxed quarantine rules to attract tourists from countries that have started vaccine rollouts, such as China, Singapore and the UK.
Thailand’s central bank has singled out an uncertain recovery in tourist arrivals as “a major risk” to the medium-term economic growth outlook to, with Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput saying it would be very difficult for the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels without tourism. It shrank the most since 1998 last year, and will in 2021 “at somewhat a lower rate” than the central bank’s December projection of 3.2 per cent, the bank said.
Thailand is set to start a national inoculation program within a week. It aims to vaccinate 50 per cent of its population by the end of this year. The nation has ordered 61 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, to be locally produced by Siam Bioscience through technology transfer.
The country will eventually allow registration and imports of several brands of COVID-19 vaccines as long as they meet local rules, and private hospitals will be permitted to administer the shots, Prayuth said. The government will control the distribution of vaccines only in the early stages, he said.
“Many companies have shown interest to register but their documents are not completed yet,” Prayuth said. “It is good that we will have more vaccines than the 65 million doses planned by the government now.”