Deputy Army Chief, Nattapol Nakpanich, says the State of Emergency is required to manage the screening and entry of returning Thais and foreigners into the kingdom while protecting the country against a threatened second wave of infection. It comes as the government indicates that an extension of the State of Emergency by decree is likely. The cabinet has approved an extension of the visa amnesty for up to 250,000 stranded foreigners in Thailand.

The Thai cabinet, meeting on Tuesday, gave its imprimatur to an automatic extension of the visa amnesty for stranded foreigners in the kingdom. It was a further improvement on Friday’s announcement of a grace period. The amnesty applies to tourists who entered Thailand before the state of emergency on March 26th last. It comes amid rumbling political opposition to the Thai government in which the state of emergency has become a hot issue as opposition groups contest it while the government argues that it needs the powers to allow for controlled entry into Thailand for foreigners and Thai returnees.

Government deputy spokesperson Traisuree Taisaranakul (centre) had good news for stranded foreigners in Thailand on Tuesday when she announced cabinet approval of a straightforward visa amnesty extension until September 26th next. It comes as, on TV, Deputy Army Chief, Nattapol Nakpanich (top right), argued that a fourth extension of the emergency decree is necessary so that the government can keep its screening and quarantine operations running which is allowing stranded Thais and foreigners outside Thailand return to the kingdom in safety while protecting the public from a threatened second wave of Covid 19 infection.

It was good news for foreigners stranded in Thailand when the cabinet finally approved an automatic extension to the visa amnesty until September 26th next.

Right up to the middle of last week, a senior Thai immigration bureau officer had claimed that such an event was ‘unlikely’ but on Friday, Mr Natapanu Nopakun, a spokesman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and deputy spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, suggested that a proposal for a grace period when the amnesty expired on July 31st was being considered and a proposal drafted.

No need to visit local immigration offices or get an embassy letter. No 90-day reporting requirement

Today, after the cabinet’s meeting, it has emerged that what has been agreed is a simple extension to the amnesty which will mean no requirement to foreigners to attend their local immigration office or to make the 90-day reports which is still obligatory for other foreigners in the kingdom who hold normal long-stay visas.

There will also be no requirement to obtain a letter from the relevant embassy.

In recent weeks, the US and UK embassies had specifically stated that such letters would not be forthcoming. Australian ambassador, Mr Allan McKinnon, speaking last week in his regular update to Australians in Thailand and with ties to the kingdom, said that such letters would be available at the Australian mission visa email, a reversal of a previous policy.

Estimated that the measure will impact up to 250,000 stranded foreigners behind Thailand’s borders

Details of the decision were given today by the government’s deputy spokeswoman, Traisuree Taisaranakul. She said it would help foreign tourists stranded behind Thailand’s borders. There are estimated to be 250,000 still here. 

The amnesty only applies to visa holders who arrived in Thailand before March 26th last, the day that Thailand declared a state of emergency but after January 2020. 

There will be further announcements to come on the details of the provision that was agreed at today’s government meeting.

Government hints that the State of Emergency will be extended for a fourth time to protect the borders 

Also on Tuesday, the government indicated that an extension to the State of Emergency may be on the cards also beyond July 31st, by decree. This would be the fourth time that this has happened.

A key committee at the Covid 19 centre has recommended this on the basis that Thailand needs the special powers to protect its borders.

The issue is becoming more contentious given the fact that the kingdom has now gone 55 days without a case of local transmission amid increased rumblings against the government including social media commentary and a number of protests over the weekend where the virus crisis and state of emergency decree was raised.

Political activists are accusing the Thai government of using the virus and special emergency powers to suppress opposition to its mandate and calls for political reform.

Deputy Army Chief explains why the State of Emergency is required – to run the entry, screening and quarantine operations for returning Thais and foreigners gaining access to the kingdom

On Tuesday, a government official and top army officer, hit back strongly at such suggestions.

The Deputy Chief of the Thai Army and an official with the Centre for Covid 19 Situation Administration, Nattapol Nakpanich, gave an interview to a popular Thai news show, Inside Thailand.

He argued that the emergency decree gave the government the power to screen and safely quarantine tens of thousands of travellers currently entering Thailand including Thai returnees, businessmen, work permit holders as well as spouses and partners of Thai nationals.

Health officials at the Covid 19 Situation Administration Centre regard these screening and quarantine operations as essential to protecting Thailand from the virus that is still raging worldwide and posing a definite risk of a second wave of infection.

No political dimension to the decree

He rubbished suggestions that the decree was being used in any way for political purposes.

‘The extension of the Emergency Decree will not be applied to political dimensions,’ he told the audience of the show. ‘If we use it for other purposes, it will be attacked by certain groups. The prevention of Covid 19 remains the highest priority for using the decree.’

Opposition Move Forward MP points to the arrests last week in Rayong of two activists over a banner

Move Forward MP, Rangsiman Rome, was not buying it.

He pointed to the lack of a case of local transmission in over 50 days. ‘There is no reason for the government to keep it apart from using it against the government’s critics,’ he claimed.

Mr Rangsiman pointed to the arrest of two activists last week in Rayong during the visit of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to the province in the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the positive test linked to a visiting Egyptian soldier who was part of a holiday junket which failed to quarantine drawing the ire of local people in Rayong province and throughout Thailand.

Both men were detained for unfurling a banner which sharply criticised Thailand’s government leader.

Further reading:

Visa amnesty ‘grace period’ being drafted says government official but must first get top-level assent

Doors closed to a European diplomat who came from the airport to a Bangkok condo building after flight

Peaceful anti-government protest led by ‘Free Youth’ movement breaks out in central Bangkok on Saturday

Screw tightens for foreign tourists as visa expiry date of July 31st beckons with even fewer options

Stranded foreigners must get embassy letter, new visa or leave Thailand to avoid arrest by police

US Embassy in Bangkok – guidance on the visa amnesty expiry – May 29th 2020

US Embassy in Bangkok – frequently asked questions – July 14th 2020

PM signs order granting visa extensions to all valid visa holders until April 30th to cull queues

Officials find a visa solution for up to 500,000 foreigners riding out the coronavirus crisis here in Thailand

Smart cars highlighted by the Immigration Bureau as it seeks out foreigners hiding from the law

Immigration boss warns that a new crackdown on foreigners flouting Thai laws has begun

It’s a hard station for Thai police and foreigners should understand better the job they do to keep order