Thailand plans to reopen to fully vaccinated visitors in October, according to government officials last Friday, as the country attempts to rebuild a tourism industry decimated by the pandemic.
Tourism contributed one-fifth of Thailand’s national income in 2019, but travel restrictions imposed to combat Covid-19 reduced the usual influx of foreign visitors to almost nothing, contributing to the economy’s worst performance in over 20 years.
Despite a deadly third wave of infections caused by the Delta variant; the kingdom is pressing ahead with plans to reopen.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand announced that beginning October 1, fully vaccinated foreign visitors will be able to visit Bangkok and four other provinces without being subjected to a two-week hotel quarantine.
Instead, the five provinces – which also include Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Phetchaburi, and Prachuap Khiri Khan – are expected to follow a “sandbox” model like the one that has been tested in Phuket since July.
Tourists must stay within a specific area for seven days after arrival and take Covid-19 tests under the Sandbox scheme.
Later in October, 21 new destinations will be added to the list, including Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, and the popular seaside resort of Rayong.
However, Thailand’s third and deadliest Covid-19 wave has not yet subsided, and the tourism agency has warned that the plans may change.
Thailand escaped Covid-19 relatively unscathed in 2020, with low numbers of infections, but since April, the Delta variant has taken hold, and cases have risen to more than 1.3 million, with nearly 14,000 deaths.
According to government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, more than 29,000 fully vaccinated international visitors visited Phuket’s beach under the Sandbox scheme, generating nearly A$68 million in revenue.
Three more Thai islands, Samui, Tao, and Phangan, reopened with slightly more stringent restrictions.
Cities and provinces that house more than 40% of Thailand’s population and generate more than three-quarters of the country’s output are currently subject to strict restrictions, including the closure of all “non-essential” businesses, restrictions on inter-provincial travel, and a curfew between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Thailand’s parliament last week approved a 3.1 trillion-baht (US$93 billion) spending plan for the fiscal year beginning October 1, which seeks to increase spending on combating the Covid-19 outbreak while reducing spending on defence and education.
The travel advice of other countries discouraging would-be tourists from visiting Thailand is one cloud hanging over Thailand’s tourism revival plans.
Because of rising case numbers and low vaccination rates, the United Kingdom and the United States have issued travel warnings to Thailand.
According to the government’s Covid-19 task force, approximately 16% of the Thai population has received two coronavirus vaccine doses.
By Joe Cusmano