As Thailand launches round the clock security on its borders with Myanmar and Laos, ministers have moved to assure the public that there is no threat of a second wave of the virus in the kingdom. Contrarily, the government is taking steps to ease restrictions on incoming foreign tourists, in a surprise move.
Thai PM Prayut Chan ocha has told the Foreign Affairs Ministry to ease restrictions on foreign tourists seeking to visit Thailand by issuing free tourist visas and an extended version of the lowest tier visa from 30 days to 45 days to allow for a 14 day quarantine period. This will apply to all countries that previously had a visa waiver scheme with Thailand including many western countries. The move comes as officials are responding to a spike in local infections being reported from Thai nationals returning from the nightlife scene in the Myanmar town of Tachileik, which came to light last week.
Thailand is pressing ahead with moves to reopen, gradually, to foreign tourism with more access to foreign visitors despite the Covid-19 outbreak in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai driven by Thai women and entertainment workers returning from the Myanmar town of Tachileik.
On Tuesday, it was reported the Prime Minister has given instructions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to implement a range of measures to ease restrictions on foreigners coming to Thailand as tourists.
Free 30 day tourist visa to be extended to 45 days
This will include a free visa scheme and extension of the lowered tiered tourist visa from 30 to 45 days to allow for the quarantine period.
The move will apply to 56 approved countries under Thailand’s visa waiver scheme including Russia but this may even see further flexibility, as vaccinations get underway, over the coming months and into 2021, worldwide.
The initiative was confirmed by Jaturon Chaiyakham, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Consular Affairs at the Foreign Ministry.
It is also being reported that the Special Tourist Visa, which allows for up to a nine-month stay, will now be available to all prospective visitors to Thailand in any country. The number of such visas issued is still under 1,000, a disappointing result for the government.
PM moves to quell fears of a 2nd wave of the virus in Thailand after 38 infections linked to Myanmar
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, on Tuesday, moved to quell fears that Thailand may be on the verge of a second wave of the Covid-19 virus infection after the numbers of Thais returning from Myanmar, across the border with Chiang Rai, that have tested positive, as well as indirect infections occurring locally, rose to thirty-eight.
He did, however, insist that those who had broken the law by returning to Thailand illegally would face legal consequences.
He also warned local officials, at the border, who cooperate with people-smuggling gangs, that they will be tracked down by an ongoing investigation. He singled out and promised those involved in human trafficking that they will face the severest punishment.
Round the clock heightened border security
However, the PM said that the situation was now under control after increased security had been deployed not only along Thailand’s border with Myanmar but also with Laos where security services detained several groups of illegal migrants including one group of 16 Chinese nationals on Saturday night, near Nong Khai, who were found attempting to enter the kingdom without any form of documentation on their person.
They were arrested by the Royal Thai Navy’s Mekong Riverine Unit on the Mekong River near Nong Khai.
‘Not a second wave of infections or super-spreaders’
‘It is not a second wave of infections or super-spreaders. It is individual infections. We have asked the neighbouring country to screen and prevent them from entering via natural passages along the border,’ General Prayut explained.
He told the press that patrols are now working, at all hours, on the border and he had instructed security chiefs to use more aerial monitoring facilities to protect Thailand’s borders.
Provisional authorities working with counterparts in Myanmar to allow for repatriation of Thai workers
Provincial authorities in Chiang Rai have also set up arrangements to allow Thai nationals in Myanmar, particularly in the town of Tachileik, to return across the border at the Thai Myanmar Friendship Bridge in Mae Sai.
Authorities are reaching out to their counterparts in Myanmar through the Thai-Myanmar Township Border Committee.
Deputy Provincial Governor, Narong Rojanasothorn, said that at least 42 Thais returned through this route on Monday but authorities are not sure how many people still are awaiting return to Thailand.
Nine out of ten Thai women, who had worked at the now notorious 1G1 Hotel who returned on Monday tested positive, as they were immediately tested after coming across the border.
Officials are not sure how many Thai nationals still wish to return but are certain that it is in the hundreds and possibly in the thousands.
They are making it clear that all those returning, under this dispensation, will later face charges for illegal entry into Thailand.
Top medical officer confirms women who tested positive worked at Tachileik’s notorious 1G1 Hotel
Dr Thossathep Boonthong, Chiang Rai’s medical chief, has already confirmed that a significant number of those who returned last week worked at the 1G1 Hotel in Tachileik.
The hotel is now reported to have closed on Tuesday, November 24th when local authorities in Tachileik identified it as the centre of the outbreak in the town.
Top medical officials assure the public in Chiang Rai
Dr Thossathep also assured the public in Chiang Rai that authorities could cater for the outbreak and confirmed that the Mae Fah Luang Medical Centre at Mae Fah Luang University, in the centre of Chiang Rai, was being readied to cater for an overflow of patients from Prachanukroh Hospital where most patients are now being treated.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, on Tuesday, called on Thai nationals, still in Myanmar, to return to Thailand through legal routes.
He promised that his ministry would recommence giving updates on the Covid 19 situation on a daily basis to address the public’s concern.
Deputy Prime Minister castigates ‘irresponsible’ and ‘selfish’ Thais and gives full support to local business people’s plans to sue them for damages in civil court
The Deputy Prime Minister made it clear that the current situation is not an outbreak but a case of infected people being detected after illegally entering into Thailand.
He described those involved as both ‘irresponsible ‘ and ‘selfish’. He revealed that he supported plans, expressed by local business owners in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, to take legal action for damages against the individuals concerned who are also facing certain criminal prosecution.
Some reports suggest that proceedings, alleging damages of up to ฿20 million, may be brought against all those involved by extremely irate local business interests.
Deputy PM Anutin urged the private sector to sue those who break the law but said the government would not be pursuing the civil damages path.
He assured the public that the situation is under control and that units of the Department of Disease Control are at the border provinces working with local medical authorities.