Shock announcement that international flights will fully reopen on July 1st will be welcome and good news to many foreigners with links to Thailand. Many will remain cautious until they know exactly what the position is. Chief among their concerns will be quarantine requirements but it does look like the nightmare for many heartbroken Thai Foreigner families is drawing to a close. Expect to see more details emerge in the coming days and weeks perhaps generating some confusion as top officials work out the way forward in what is a fluid and challenging situation.
A top security official in Thailand, General Somsak Rungsita, has indicated that the country’s state of emergency will come to an end on July 1st and that this will mean a full re-opening of international and internal travel.
It is not clear yet what the exact implications of this are for tens of thousands of foreigners stranded outside the kingdom since the beginning of April but this is surely positive news and should mean that they will be reunited with family and loved ones in Thailand sooner rather than later.
We have already learned that work permit holders can now apply for Thai government repatriation flights at Thai Embassies worldwide and will be eligible for flights from mid-June.
The other encouraging indicator is that facilities seem to be in place to accommodate foreign travellers for quarantine purposes with a new hotel/hospital network offering quarantine accommodation packages throughout the country.
News comes from Thailand’s National Security Council but details needed on secondary provisions
The news on Thursday came from National Security Council chief and secretary-general, General Somsak Rungsita.
He indicated that the move will see the end of the emergency decree, curfew and a full resumption of international and inter-provincial travel.
We are still waiting on details to emerge as officials are reported to be working out the details during June.
‘Authorities will have serious discussions because after the emergency decree ends, other laws will be used instead,’ he said.
‘People’s cooperation is important. This concerns the use of face masks, social distancing, hand wash and limited activities. As long as the disease is spreading worldwide, we will have to fight against it for a while.’
Indications that Thai officials are responding to the concerns of foreigners with links to the kingdom
In the last few days, there have been some firm indicators that the plight of foreigners stranded outside the kingdom with loved ones seeking to be returned, may have caught the attention of Thai authorities.
The first positive indication is that it appears that foreigners living outside Thailand with work permits may now be eligible for the Thai government flight repatriation programme.
This follows confirmation that a US-based work permit holder in Washington DC has been told by the Thai Embassy there that he may be eligible for a repatriation flight on June 10th.
‘I received an email from the Thai embassy in Washington DC today saying I was eligible for repatriation flights. I registered for it but all flights were booked but I was able to get on the waitlist for the June 10th flight. (I have a Non-O based on Marriage and a Work permit),’ Mr Chris Franck told one of two Facebook groups that have been very influential and helpful in raising this issue and bringing it to the attention of government authorities.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs moving focus to foreigners says reports as Thai national mission winds down
Mr Franck’s news follows media reports that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand, which has been orchestrating the repatriation flights, is considering shifting focus at a later stage to the repatriation of foreigners with links to the kingdom.
Days ago, a comprehensive announcement and briefing by Deputy Commander Choengron Rimphadi of the Thai Immigration Bureau left the Foreigner Thai community and other prospective visitors to the kingdom dismayed when he put the current legal situation in clear and unambiguous terms within a comprehensive video broadcast. The senior police officer asked for patience.
It is understood that behind the scenes, some ambassadors from foreign embassies in Bangkok have been taking up the issue of the large numbers of foreigners waiting outside Thailand’s still closed borders with family members and commitments in the kingdom.
This crisis has, in fact, highlighted this growing community in the country with its real, positive and heartfelt links with the Thai populace.
Australian ambassador has been a hero for the Thai Australian community raising the issue with officials
The ambassador who has been most overtly supportive of the cause has been the Australian ambassador, Allan McKinnon, but it is understood that the matter has been raised also by other envoys.
Mr McKinnon, with his clear and transparent style, gave a clear insight into what foreigners can expect from the Thai government as the Covid 19 emergency appears to be moving on.
He revealed that this week he had met a senior representative at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and raised the issue on Tuesday.
‘Yesterday I spoke about the challenges facing Australians who for various reasons are in Australia and want to return to Thailand in the near future. This is a real focus of mine. I spoke at length about this issue to the responsible area of the Thai Foreign Ministry,’ he disclosed.
Thai officials are sympathetic but must be cautious going forward to keep the Covid 19 virus threat at bay
The ambassador indicated that Thai officials were aware of the issue and were sympathetic.
However, they had to be cautious at this time as there have been quite a few cases of imported infections.
He did reveal that any foreigner with a work-related visa or a work permit and who wants to access a repatriation flight, should now apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the relevant Thai Embassy.
He said that their case would be carefully considered.
Good news and bad news for foreigners waiting to get home at this time but a solution is in sight
There was good and bad news for most foreigners who have family in Thailand but do not have work visas or permits.
Ambassador McKinnon emphasised that Thai officials are prioritising the fight against the Covid 19 virus.
‘They’re prioritising the fight against the Covid 19 virus and will be understandably tough,’ he warned.
He said that foreigners had to accept that, for now, they cannot be the priority for Thai officials engaged in what is a national emergency.
However, he did suggest that officials are preparing to later look at the case of the extended Thai foreigner community and solve this problem.
‘In time, Thailand will give a lot of attention to these cases but just not yet,’ he concluded.
Foreigners must prepare for a period of confusion due to the fluid situation and overlapping powers
This has been followed by reports emanating from the Foreign Ministry that the issue of foreigners with extended links to the kingdom is now actively on the radar of government officials.
It is important for foreigners to note that this is a fluid situation with a network of government departments, agencies and overlapping regulations.
It may take time for the situation to emerge with clarity while in the meantime, there may be contradictory indicators.
We saw this happen when the measures were first introduced in March.
Repatriation of some foreigners to Thailand by the Thai government will happen in June
However, there are indications that the repatriation of Thai nationals to Thailand may have already been achieved with reports of many empty seats on inbound flights from different destinations such as Europe, Australia and Sri Lanka in recent days.
For now, the priority will be work permit holders who are legally entitled to enter the kingdom under the current state of emergency rules which will be in effect until July 1st.
Reopening of international flights into Thailand from July 1st but with what controls and regulations?
On Thursday, the National Security Chief, General Somsak Rungsita indicated that July 1st could see ‘a complete reopening of the country’.
He said that officials with the CCSA or Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration were planning to spend June working on this. This would include opening the country again to international flights.
However, the top security official did point out that other laws and provisions would be used to reinforce critical requirements to keep the Covid 19 threat at bay.
The General said that the co-operation of the public at this point was imperative.
One limitation which will immediately apply will be the requirements imposed by the Ministry of Public Health on selected countries under the 2015 Communicable Disease law.
This currently applies to France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany and a range of other countries with the imposition of onerous requirements on all passengers from these states. One announcement that can be expected is an update to this list or ‘high-risk zones’ from the Ministry of Public Health given the extensive spread and prevalence of the disease in Europe and the Americas.
Tourism returning to Thailand
This then brings us to the broader question of tourism returning to Thailand outside the Foreigner Thai community who have long term links to the kingdom.
Reports from Bangkok, this week, suggest that dozens of well known, top-level hotels have been put on the chopping block in fire sales representing huge investments with many establishments having cost developers billions of Thai baht to build and launch.
The Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Yuthasak Supasorn and other top tourism officials have given indications that they do not expect tourism to return to Thailand until October.
This has been repeated by other senior officials and TAT representatives outside Thailand.
Tourism controls appear to be envisaged by Thai tourism boss and authorities with talk of ‘bridges’
However, plans are now emerging which give details of the quarantine accommodation between hotels and hospitals suggested last week by the Covid 19 Administration Centre in Bangkok.
The Governor has also indicated that even if international flights are open, tourists may only be able to visit selected areas.
This has also led to the suggestion of a ‘bridge’ approach whereby visitors from safer countries will be allowed to visit similarly safe or closed off locations in Thailand.
‘We have studied a possibility of offering special long-stay packages in isolated and closed areas where health monitoring can be easily controlled – for example, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui,’ Mr Yuthasak indicated this week. ‘This will be beneficial for both tourists and local residents since this is almost a kind of quarantine.’
Broader access to the kingdom on flights but subject to quarantine from July 1st seems likely
However, it does appear that the reopening of Thailand’s airspace to international flights may be on a broader scale but still subject to quarantine and other requirements under the Communicable Disease Act of 2015.
Details on this should become clear in the coming days and weeks.
Hotel quarantine packages are part of the solution, 1 stranded foreigner was quoted ฿45,000 for 15 days
There is also talk in the travel industry of hotels being used for state quarantine with inbound foreign travellers being offered a commercial quarantine package as opposed to limited state facilities.
One stranded foreigner spoke to a hotel in Bangkok which was preparing to take part in the programme and was quoted ฿45,000 for 15 days for a quarantine package which included accommodation, medical care and daily meals.
Thai governments ‘Alternative Quarantine’ offer
It is understood that the Thai government has already signed up 6,000 hotels to the programme as part of an ‘Alternative Quarantine offer’ being promoted already by the government’s own PR arm.
This would be a boost to the hard-pressed tourism sector but clearly, represents an added expense for foreigners who already have homes in Thailand.
For most, of course, it will be a price worth paying.
The government in Thailand has made available two hotline numbers for those seeking information on the service. These are 1667 and 1426.
This initiative has been organised by Thailand’s Ministry of Health and each hotel is working with a hospital as a partner.
Prices on offer appear to be variable
It does appear that the prices and scale of charges on offer vary with the accommodation.
One hotel, for instance, is the Qiu Hotel in Bangkok which offers a 16 day/15 night package per person for ฿32,000.
Last few days have seen a positive shift for foreigners waiting to access Thailand and reunite with family
There appears to have been a shift of emphasis for foreigners waiting at Thailand’s doors in the last week or so.
Much of this can be credited to foreigners and their families in the kingdom respectfully making their voice heard but also consideration must be given to the extent and scale of this emergency that the Thai government has been dealing with and the threat posed to the kingdom.
It also appears that, despite the suffering endured by the community, some thought has been put into handling the special circumstances facing it by officials.
Thailand is not the only country that has closed its doors to non-national family members of citizens during this crisis.
Progressive states like Sweden and Denmark continue to prohibit foreign spouses from crossing their borders.
There is still a lot more to find out and perhaps it will be many days yet before many heartsore foreigners can be reunited with their loved ones.
But we can now say this, the door is opening and the message has been heard.