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Thailand sinking in COVID-19 resilience ranking amid slow reopening

Thailand sinking in COVID-19 resilience ranking amid slow reopening

TOURISM: Despite the proclaimed movement towards classifying COVID-19 as an endemic disease and the government’s promises to further lift travel restrictions, Thailand is yet to shine in the Bloomberg’s COVID-19 Resilience Ranking. In March the Kingdom dropped from 31 to 41, loosing 10 positions at once. The main negative factors are lockdown severity, low flight capacity and lack of travel routes for vaccinated travellers. All that is directly linked to tourism.

By Anton Makhrov

Tuesday 5 April 2022, 09:28AM

Hurt by restrictions

Classified as number 41 in Bloomberg’s most recent ranking, Thailand has an accumulated total score of 62.4 points. To put it into perspective, The top 3 countries are Norway, UAE and Denmark with 81.1, 80.2 and 80 respectively. The worst performers are Pakistan, Russia and Hong Kong with 53.5, 51.3 and 42.1.

Bloomberg acknowledges that Thailand does relatively well in terms of vaccination with 184.3 doses per 100 people (and the number for Phuket are even higher, according to the Phuket Provincial Health Office data).

One month cases per 100,000 stand at 975 while the three-month case fatality rate is as low as 0.2. Both figures are satisfactory and thus are coloured blue in Bloomberg’s table.

Community mobility (-3.6%) and GDP growth forecast (3.7%) are also in the blue zone though are still average for the 53 countries listed.

Bad news for Thailand is what exactly keeps the overall rating close to the bottom of the table. According to Bloomberg’s analysts, Thailand badly underperforms in terms of reopening and easing restrictions if compared with the West.

Thailand’s lockdown severity score is only 47 meaning that “social and economic activity are tightly restricted by government policy and guidance”, which results in “people experiencing greater disruption to their lives”.

The Kingdom’s neighbours in this "severity group" are actually the country’s geographic neighbours, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Mainland China, India and Hong Kong, with scores in the range of 43 to 71.

Even worse is Thailand’s flight capacity score of -61.4% representing “the percentage change in flight capacity scheduled in the past four weeks compared to the same period prior to the pandemic”. Only three countries and territories are further below, namely Singapore (-64.9%), Taiwan (-72.3%) and Hong Kong (-88.3%).

Last but by no means least, is the Kingdom’s vaccinated travel routes score standing at mediocre 302.5. The score "is derived from the number of open travel routes – both outbound and inbound – that a place has with the rest of the world for vaccinated international travelers" (routes requiring quarantine count as half), Bloomberg says.

In 2021 Thailand was among the first countries to declare reopening by launching Phuket Sandbox initiative. Now in 2022, the Land of Smiles – according to Bloomberg’s analysts – is behind such local competitors as Vietnam, Philippines and India plus greatly outperformed by global rivals including Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Egypt.

Slow comeback

QSI International School Phuket

In the most recent development of the re-opening process, Thailand from Apr 1 stopped requiring pre-travel RT-PCR under the Test & Go, Sandbox and Happy Quarantine programmes and contracted quarantine and Sandbox stay period to five days.

In an article titled “Reopening gathers steam” the Bangkok Post called the move an “another big step forward”. The newspaper cited government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, who said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha instructed related agencies to prepare for an influx of foreign tourists under the less severe revised system.

Yet tourism businesses have mixed feelings regarding the move. Scrapping pre-arrival RT-PCR test is a right thing to do, but might not be strong enough to lure international travelers back as those planning holidays now have several choices with far fewer restrictions than Thailand, said Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, President of the Thai Hotels Association, when the move had been just announced in March.

Travellers during the pandemic will prioritise destinations that can facilitate their trips with the fewest restrictions, Ms Marisa added.

A simple glance at the most recent Bloomberg’s rating shows that such places are aplenty and geographically closer to the key European markets that Thailand wants to target. The later is highly important amid the global oil price surge (read – jet fuel price surge) and air traffic disruptions due to Russia’s so called “special military operation” in Ukraine (read – war).

According to Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), authorities should seriously consider abandoning the mandatory Test & Go scheme altogether as it runs counter to the message of truly reopening Thailand to tourists.

Foreign visitors who are fully vaccinated want unfettered travel that will not incur additional costs, said Mr Supant. Full opening of the country has been FTI’s stance for months.

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn most recently said that the ministry will this month ask the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to consider further easing entry rules, such as replacing on-arrival RT-PCR tests with simpler and quicker ATKs. A green light from the CCSA could see the rule come into effect on May 1. 

It will also be proposed that Thailand Pass registration be scrapped from June 1, to mark a return to "business as usual" for the stricken sector, Mr Phiphat added.

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports estimates around 7 million foreign tourists will visit Thailand in 2022 year, generating only about 30% of the B3 trillion raked in by the tourism revenue in 2019.

The Bank of Thailand has recently slashed its forecast for economic growth this year from 3.4% to 3.2%. Kasikorn Research Center decreased its to 2.5%, down from 3.7%. These changes might not be marked by Bloomberg.

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