Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha ordered a study by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week into what he accepted was an issue with divergent opinions based on human rights and the lack of clear medical science on one hand and on the other, the urgent need, this year, to restart the kingdom’s foreign tourism industry which is vital to the overall economy.

A key meeting, on Monday, at the Ministry of Public Health of a select committee of officials is scheduled to discuss the possibility of allowing vaccinated tourists from foreign countries easier access to Thailand to prevent a collapse of the foreign tourism industry which has been starved of mass tourism since the beginning of April 2020.

Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul (centre) is to chair a key committee at the Ministry of Public Health to discuss the possible use of vaccine passports to relax restrictions on incoming foreign tourists at the end of 2021. The National Communicable Diseases Committee will hear from the Department of Disease Control Chief, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, who is emphasising the need for scientific data on the effect of vaccines in preventing or reducing transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

A top Thai analyst working with Krungthai Compass, the research unit attached to Krungthai bank, is predicting that even if Thailand opens up to foreign tourism this year without the onerous quarantine conditions, it will still only see 2.4 million visitors.

It comes as a crucial meeting of the National Communicable Diseases Committee is scheduled for Monday next, the 8th March, to discuss the acceptance and perhaps future application of vaccine passports of foreigners from countries where vaccine rollouts are currently being advanced, as a screening measure against the virus threat.

Minister to chair key committee on vaccine passports

The meeting of the committee will be chaired by the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul and will hear from Dr Opas Karnkawinpong of the Department of Disease Control who up to now, has pointed out that the use of vaccine passports requires the oversight of the World Health Organisation under international law.

Economic pressure to remove quarantine logjam as Minister of Finance calls for higher growth

There is considerable and heightened pressure from economic planners being applied to break the logjam over the country’s alternative quarantine scheme system.

This has proven to be an effective barrier against the importation of the virus but one that has slowed foreign tourist numbers to a minute trickle, at under 0.15% of the visitor numbers seen incoming in 2019.

This week, the Minister of Finance Arkhom Termpittayapaisith has said the projected growth rate for 2021 currently at 2.8% is unacceptable. His figure is already based on achieving 5 million tourists this year.

The foreign tourism sector contributed ฿2 trillion to Thailand’s direct bottom line in 2019 and solely in statistical terms, is 11% of the country’s GDP.

However, when indirect expenditures and associated industries reliant on the trade are taken into account, it drives up to 20% of the overall economy.

Asset warehouse scheme dependent on reopening to mass tourism this year to save indebted concerns

It is also understood that a critical asset warehouse scheme to bail out many indebted tourism-related ventures involving the drawdown of up to ฿100 billion in funds set aside by the Finance Ministry, is critically dependent on easy access for foreign tourists towards the end of 2021.

Officials work on asset warehouse plan to relaunch the tourism industry

In recent days, Dr Opas suggested the country may be able to enter into a bilateral agreement with other countries based on vaccine passport arrangements.

This comes as the European Union has confirmed it is to deploy such a scheme with similar plans proposed by the United States and the United Kingdom.

Public Health Minister talks about plans to ‘revive the economy’ – already ordered local vaccine passports

The Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, on Wednesday, announced that anyone vaccinated in Thailand’s vaccination campaign which is to be ramped up from April and will reach over half the adult population by the end of the year, is to be given a document or vaccine passport.

The minister said he wished to discuss with the public health committee the possibility of travel bubbles or bilateral agreements with countries that have successful vaccination campaigns. 

He also wanted to facilitate Thais wishing to travel abroad who have already been vaccinated in the kingdom.

‘The Public Health Ministry is making preparations to bring life back to normal, restore businesses and revive the Thai economy,’ he divulged.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs to study vaccine passport issue subject to conflicting opinions worldwide

It follows an initiative by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha on Tuesday who ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to undertake its own study into the multilateral issues raised by the use of vaccine passports.

The PM conceded there is opposition to the concept both based on human rights and equality as well as practical medical consideration as to the proven efficacy of vaccines to restrict the transmission of the disease.

‘So at this point, I have ordered a study to be conducted around this idea in preparation for it so that Thailand will be able to keep up with other countries,’ the PM said. ‘Opinions about the Covid-19 vaccine passport system still vary, even in Thailand.’

Department of Disease Control is still insisting on hard scientific evidence as the basis for decisions

In the meantime, the top official at the Department of Disease Control, Dr Opas, in the last 24 hours, appears cautious about simply lifting the quarantine measure currently in place without having adequate and concrete scientific evidence. 

‘The mandatory quarantine measures in Thailand will be based on the incubation period of the virus, which cannot be determined yet as nobody knows how the vaccine will affect it. The incubation period can be longer or shorter, as vaccines currently do not provide 100% protection. This will also be discussed at the meeting,’ he said.

Bank research unit predicts only 2.4 million visitors with more solo travellers even with vaccine passports

Meanwhile, Kittipong Rueanthip of Krungthai Compass believes tourism prospects, even with the quarantine restriction lifted, will be limited to solo travellers or adult couples.

The basis for his assessment is that countries, as in Thailand’s case, are not vaccinating children or those under 18 years of age.

He pointed to data from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports showing Thailand is, very much now, a family destination for worldwide holidaymakers.

‘Some 73.2% of all foreign arrivals in 2015 had travelled with their family and friends, and this rose to 78.5% in 2018. Also, 85% of the tourists who travelled with their family brought their children too,’ he said.

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Further reading:

Officials not sure about vaccine passports with new plans to revive the economy through tourism

Vaccination campaign begins in early morning jab event but hopes for more foreign tourists set back

Industry leaders and central bank all warn that foreign tourism must return to avoid a collapse

Top Thai official says vaccine passports are legally a matter for the WHO under international law

Economy to rebound as the year progresses driven by exports and a return of mass foreign tourism

Door closing on quick foreign tourism return as economic recovery is delayed to the end of 2022

Challenge of the virus and closure to tourism leads to major long term changes in the Thai economy

Phuket’s plan to self vaccinate on hold as Interior Ministry orders private sector out of vaccine deals

Refloat of foreign tourism in the 2nd half of 2021 with vaccines pushed by minister and industry for the sector

Fact – only 6,556 visitors arrived in Thailand last month compared to 3.95 million in December 2019

Desperate foreign tourism business concerns are clinging to straws as they try to survive the crisis

Strict entry criteria to remain as officials await clarity on the medical status of vaccinated people

Challenge of the virus and closure to tourism leads to major long term changes in the Thai economy

Thailand’s tourism boss targets thousands instead of millions as public health is prioritised above all

Thailand unlikely to reopen doors to mass-market tourism before the end of 2021 until after a full vaccination