Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who also serves as the Public Health Minister, has chosen to toe the Chinese Government line and this week declared that Thailand cannot “discriminate against one country” in its policy to protect the Thai people.
“The principle is there will not be any discrimination against a particular country because COVID-19 is spreading in all countries and the strains are similar. So, COVID-19 should not be an issue of discriminating against any country,” he said.
Mr Anutin, really? Back in 2020, when Thailand declared that travellers from South Korea, China, Italy, Iran, Macau and Hong Kong who failed to show their health certificates to authorities before boarding their flights to Thailand will not be allowed to continue their journey, no one disagreed or cried foul over discrimination – not even China.
In 2021, when Thailand banned people arriving specifically from eight African countries due to Omicron outbreak there, it was not called discrimination. Even for the mightily praised Test & Go entry scheme last year, discrimination was on show for all to see, with only 46 countries initially allowed to enter Thailand under the scheme, still no one cried foul.
Yet today, China bleats unfair and Thailand bows. At best, the blatant hypocrisy is insulting; at worst it is panic appeasement in order to kowtow to the Chinese Government. Mr Anutin, what the government – and the world – understood during those dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic was that discrimination was required in order to determine and mitigate risk of exposure.
What is relevant is that general reports, not just those by Thai officials, are noting that the COVID strains currently spreading throughout major populated areas in China are much less severe than their predecessors. That is good news, and good reason not to panic, but it is also where the blanket ‘vaccinated-only’ entry policy falls apart.
No one is to be tested on arrival, they are only to present evidence of vaccination. Add to that being vaccinated is no protection against carrying the virus or being infected with COVID-19, as even Phuket Provincial Public Health Office Chief Dr Kusak Kukiattikoon confirmed during the Omicron outbreak across Phuket last year, and it becomes plain that requiring people to be vaccinated achieves nothing in preventing an influx of the latest strains of the virus.
What people are worried about is the viral load being introduced into Thailand, greatly enhancing the risk of falling ill. It is the number of carriers that is concerning, introducing a large number of people with a much higher probability of carrying COVID to not just the resident population, but also in more concentrated areas that tourists are exposed to, including the airport, shopping malls, popular pubs, bars, restaurants and other eateries and major tourist attractions.
This is the part that no Thai officials are talking about. No one wants to get sick on their holidays, nevermind risk contracting even mild forms of COVID. It’s just not fun, and can easily be deemed not worth the risk. What is the projected impact on tourists who are not from China choosing to not come to Thailand now knowing they will be sharing common areas with a much higher probability of contracting a strain of COVID, a less severe strain or otherwise, is anyone’s guess, but there will be an effect.
As ‘Phuket Opinion’ pointed out last week, the Chinese people are not to be blamed for wanting to come to Phuket on holiday, especially after what they have just gone through under the attempts to enforce a successful ‘Zero COVID’ policy. The Chinese Government shouldn’t even be blamed for its claims of discrimination, ridiculous as it was, as they tried their luck and got what they wanted. The responsibility for this mess rests squarely on the heads of Thailand’s illustrious leaders, it was their decision to make.
Now all they have to figure is what to do with people who arrive unvaccinated while they wait to fly back home or onto another nearby destination that does not have the same requirements, and to count the cancellations over the next two weeks of those who did not get their last booster jab more than 14 days before their departure date.
Meanwhile, they can also reflect on all those promises made to reduce Thailand’s tourism dependence on the Russian and Chinese mass markets, as that is clearly where Thailand is heading back to.