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Thailand reopening ‘has its risks’

BANGKOK: As state agencies gear up for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s vow to reopen the country to fully vaccinated tourists from Nov 1, concerns over public health safety have been raised by some medical experts.

By Bangkok Post

Wednesday 13 October 2021, 09:50AM

Travelers check in at Suvarnabhumi airport in Samut Prakan province on Sept 22. Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb / Bangkok Post

Travelers check in at Suvarnabhumi airport in Samut Prakan province on Sept 22. Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb / Bangkok Post

Both the authorities’ actions and responding health concerns follow Gen Prayut announcing the government’s reopening plan via a special televised speech Monday night, saying the country seeks to receive fully vaccinated tourists from low-risk countries who will not have to spend time in COVID-19 quarantine, reports the Bangkok Post.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has been preparing for the country’s reopening for a long period of time and has already piloted the tourism reopening in key tourist destinations such as Phuket, said Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn on Tuesday (Oct 12).

More provinces including Bangkok were previously in line to be included in the next phase of the tourism reopening programme, while the PM’s new reopening policy has come as a catalyst for reopening the country’s tourism, said Mr Phiphat.

Several other countries including neighbouring Singapore have already announced their reopening plans while the EU, Britain and the US have already reopened, he said.

“This is a competition to draw tourists in. So if we still impose a COVID-19 quarantine on them, such as for seven days, we won’t be able to compete well with other countries,” he said. “The Nov 1 reopening plan will attract a large number of tourists to Thailand between this year’s last quarter and the first quarter of next year.”

Thailand has long been considered one of the most popular destinations for visitors from Europe, the US, Japan, South Korea, and China during the approaching winter in these countries, he said.

The Public Health Ministry has already planned to speed up COVID-19 testing on tourists upon their arrival at airports to facilitate an expected rise in the number of visitors with the reopening, he said.

As for the countries whose tourists will be allowed to enter Thailand at the beginning of the Nov 1 reopening, TAT is now specifying which countries should be included in the list of low COVID-19 risk nations, he said. “More details of the reopening plan are expected to be discussed at the next meeting of the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) tomorrow,” Mr Phiphat said.

Exotic Fishing Thailand

At this point, four to five countries have been named including Britain, Germany, the US and China, he said, adding that the government is also considering seeking tourism cooperation with other Asian countries planning to reopen such as Singapore.

The government is accelerating vaccination efforts and is confident the target of 70% vaccination coverage will be met as planned, said government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana. More than 61 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have already been administered and a total of 178.2mn doses are expected to be delivered by the end of the year, he said.

But Dr Thira Woratanarat, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine, meanwhile, cautioned that the number of daily new COVID-19 infections may surge by at least twice the current figures after the reopening.

Citing an analysis of infections experienced by Chile, which reopened on Oct 1, and Denmark, reopened since early September, Dr Thira said the number of new COVID-19 cases may jump to around 20,000 per day and then keep doubling every three weeks after that.

Prof Dr Thiravat Hemachudha, the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Centre chief, said he personally supports the reopening as long as it won’t exacerbate the COVID-19 situation in the country.

At the same time, he said, he is concerned that the arrival of international tourists could trigger another major outbreak.

Virologist Anan Jongkaewwattana, from the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, made concerning comments about the reopening on his Facebook page.

“If 100,000 tourists visit, how will we do RT-PCR tests because we have never done so many before?” he asked.

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maverick | 14 October 2021 - 09:26:42

Irony is that Phuket has done more testing than rest of Thailand they were using the ATK to detect possible infection before confirming with PCR , that’s how they identified the problems at construction sites and fishing communities and led to lockdown down of Sea Gypsy village in Rawai - the problem here came across the bridge not from Farang arrivals in Sandbox

Kurt | 14 October 2021 - 09:18:10

Very caring of Thai Officialdom not put arriving foreigners at risk of Covid-19 in Thailand, although those all fully vaccinated with quality vaccines. In many provinces the vaccination action still has to get a real start. Hopefully with quality vaccines.

maverick | 14 October 2021 - 05:26:42

Let’s keep up the scare stories folks not even sure why we give these doctors oxygen haven’t got much right so far.

Kurt | 14 October 2021 - 00:37:22

@Nasa12, You are right! But shortsighted LOS officialdom refuse to accept that the Covid-19 infection come from within Thailand. From Thai to Thai. It are not the foreigners who spread at large scale Covid-19. But is feels good for officials to use foreigners as scape goat and keep 'drumming' them. They always miss use  Foreigners and migrant workers to try cover/hide their incompetence. 

Christy Sweet | 13 October 2021 - 17:23:40

Easy peasy- don't test and let  in vast quantities of tourists so the corruption pockets can be filled and shut it down  again when hospitals are at risk of inundation.

CaptainJack69 | 13 October 2021 - 13:29:05

How can Dr. Thira confidently predict that cases could "keep doubling every 3 weeks" with only 5 weeks of data from 1 country? That's bad science.

The fact is there's now far more COVID in Thailand than out.

As for PCR tests, use ATK's (like most countries) they'll still be required to do a PCR before departure anyway.

Nasa12 | 13 October 2021 - 12:43:19

Well well LOS approaching the top 20 of all countries in the world with covid 19 infection.


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