Thousands of foreigners around the world particularly in western countries have already applied or are preparing to apply to return to Thailand with a further extension of eligibility announced on Monday by the Thai government’s Covid 19 centre in Bangkok. They now face the problem of the stiff cost of 14 days commercial quarantine, confusion as consular officials at Thai embassies worldwide do not appear to be fully briefed on the requirements and a bottleneck in processing passengers for approval as well as within the quarantine system itself.
The Thai government has again postponed giving the green light to incoming tourists under the proposed ‘bubble tourism’ plan but has extended the range of foreigners now being allowed to enter the kingdom on a case by case basis with approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has also indicated that those being granted certificates of entry with work permits may be eligible to participate in Thai government repatriation flights. However, there has been a spike in reports of foreigners being told at key embassies worldwide that no information or guidance is yet available to process their applications.
The Thai government’s Covid 19 Administration Centre on Monday confirmed a raft of new criteria to guardedly allow more foreigners to enter Thailand. Most of these arrangements had already been decided in principle in the last week or so but refinements are being made.
The CCSA incorporates representatives from key government departments and during this state of emergency, is the final arbiter on all matters that may impact the country’s security and fight against the virus.
For instance, it has now been announced that foreigners travelling to Thailand on the basis of work permits, one of the first groups approved, may now be allowed to use government repatriation flights. These will be organised through the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.
Thai authorities move cautiously on tourism bubbles with fear of a second wave of the virus rising
The Covid 19 Administration Centre, at a meeting today chaired by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, also made it clear that it would move slowly and carefully on tourism bubble proposals following a rejection of proposals from government departments last week by the hawks within the Covid 19 centre and rising concerns worldwide about a second wave of infection.
More of focus now on Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved entry and paid for quarantine
For some foreigners stranded outside Thailand, this may not be a bad thing as the government now appears to be focused on making the entry route through case approval by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and subject to 14 days paid for quarantine work better and more efficiently.
The problem for many foreigners is the cost of such quarantine as there is excess demand over supply which has seen cheaper packages priced at ฿32,000 per 14 days sold out leaving the most economical option available priced at ฿45,000.
Such accommodation must be both booked and paid for before a certificate to enter Thailand is issued.
For many less well off foreigners, however, waiting for tourism to reopen is the only option.
This is going to take longer. While some reports suggest that ‘bubble tourism’ may be seen now in August or September, it will mean highly tethered access targeted at short-stay visitors or tourists.
It is increasingly looking like open access to Thailand, even on restricted terms that existed up until the state of emergency, is a long way off.
Indeed, repeated statements by senior Thai officials including the prime minister and tourism minister even suggest a permanent change in access to the kingdom by foreigners as it seeks out a more affluent type of tourist.
Even before this crisis, the World Bank had repeatedly warned Thai authorities that action was needed to conserve Thai amenities and infrastructure from consistently high levels of mass tourism which it pointed out was unsustainable without reinvestment and conservation measures.
Bottlenecks in processing capacity
It is clear that the key concern now for those desperately trying to get home, at whatever cost, is the question of bottlenecks and processing capability.
Last month, Thai authorities announced that they were increasing the capacity to process inbound passengers entering Thailand per day from 300 to 600.
It is understood that there is a fast-growing demand for alternative quarantine rooms and the government is moving to expand the number of rooms in the scheme together with the required health sector support and security required.
Extended range of foreigners eligible to apply
On Monday, the Covid 19 centre outlined a list of foreigners who are eligible to apply to enter the kingdom but subject to stringent conditions and the 14 day quarantine period.
As well as work permit holders and investors in Thailand through Board of Investment schemes, this group now includes foreign spouses and children of those with work permits, foreigners with homes or residency rights in Thailand, foreigners who are married to Thai nationals, foreigners with a carer who are seeking medical treatment not related to Covid 19 and international students with their guardians.
For now, also, the need for such access must remain an urgent one if any application is not to be rejected. There have already been such cases.
Some foreigners still excluded without official proof of residence or marriage certificates
A number of categories of foreigners stranded outside the kingdom are still not covered by Monday’s extended dispensation including foreigners with retirement visas who are not married to Thai nationals and who cannot show official evidence of permanent residence in the kingdom.
The other group are those with long term relationships with Thai partners who do not have official certificates of marriage.
Consular officials in some embassies in the dark about the eligibility of any foreigners to return
There are, additionally, widespread reports from Thai embassies throughout the world of foreigners making enquiries being told by consular officials that they are not aware of the new entry dispensation for key groups of foreigners and that only Thai nationals are still being processed.
One foreigner was told categorically by an official at the Royal Thai Embassy in Singapore that, at this time, only Thai nationals can apply to return to Thailand.
An added complication here may be the confusion over the issuance of visas and allowing those who already have a valid visa to return with approval from Bangkok.
Some days ago, an official at the Royal Thai Embassy in London had no idea of how a UK based national could apply to be reunited with his wife while a week earlier, an embassy official issued the first list of requirements for such passengers.
This is a particular problem for any foreigner trying to progress their entry into the kingdom as each category has an extensive checklist of requirements that needs to be addressed conclusively before an application is even submitted to Bangkok.
Limited number of business travellers from Japan, China and South Korea can enter the kingdom on short term stays without quarantine
The government also announced on Monday that short term stays for businessmen and highly skilled workers without quarantine from Japan, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore will be allowed.
Up to 200 business travellers will be allowed entry per day with a maximum group number of 10 per party.
Entertainment venues and massage parlours open on Wednesday under strict and onerous conditions
Meanwhile, the powerful Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration committee on Monday approved the reopening of bars, entertainment venues and wet massage parlours from Wednesday.
Taweesilp Visanuyothin described this decision and green light to reopen these businesses as having been ‘widely debated’ and stressed the importance of adherence to the comprehensive regulations and protocols including the use of the Thai Chana app for contact tracing if a case of local virus transmission turns up.
So far, it is being reported that close to 6 million people have downloaded the app in Thailand.
The requirements for reopening are strict and onerous with no less than 22 different measures to be complied with.
Pattaya trade association leader says 50% of his members may not reopen this week due to restrictions
Last week, one trade association leader in Pattaya representing entertainment venues estimated that most of his members would not be able to reopen under the present restrictions.
Damrongkiat Phinitkarn suggested that the new guidelines meant that most venues would be limited to 50% of their normal capacity and burdened with an extensive range of additional costs.
Among the requirements is that customers would have to refrain from singing and dancing.