Thailand is currently listed as ‘amber’ and not ‘red’. However, the current third wave outbreak in the country, regulations and confusion, such as that over the C.36.3 or ‘Thai variant’ of Covid-19, hampers the resumption of anything like normal tourist traffic between Thailand and the United Kingdom in the short term. There are too many onerous restrictions on both sides making it extremely difficult for travellers.
A senior opposition politician in the United Kingdom, this week, called for Thailand to be put on the red list of countries with numerous travel restrictions applied to travellers entering Britain including potential returning holidaymakers. The move relates to the disputed ‘Thai variant’ of Covid-19 which Thai officials strenuously claim is a false term as it refers to a case that originated in Egypt and a variant which is not in local transmission in the kingdom where 90% of infections, according to the Thai government’s medical science agency on Friday, are caused by the British variant of the disease.
The main opposition party in the United Kingdom is calling on the government there to further restrict holidaymakers travelling to Thailand under the country’s traffic lights foreign travel scheme over what British media are referring to as the ‘Thai variant’ of Covid-19.
Last Friday, the Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds launched a blistering attack on the UK government’s policy which had placed Thailand, for the moment, under an amber listing because of the latest and devastating third wave outbreak in the kingdom.
Mr Thomas-Symonds accused UK authorities of being ‘reckless’ for failing to protect the country against the ‘Thai variant’ which health officials here say is false
He accused UK authorities and Home Secretary Priti Patel of being reckless and allowing the country to become vulnerable to new variants of the disease.
The context of this is the Indian variant which is sweeping the United Kingdom at the moment and is threatening a full reopening of the country despite its successful vaccination campaign which is acknowledged worldwide.
Despite objections from Thai officials and the government in Bangkok, the British media has insisted on referring to the C.36.3 variant as the ‘Thai variant’ of the Covid-19 virus even though it was first detected in an Egyptian national while in quarantine after travelling to Thailand and then passed on by the kingdom’s public officials to international bodies.
The virus variant was designated as under investigation by UK authorities on May 24th last with 117 cases identified, 37% of whom had been among travellers returning to the country.
UK politician conflated the ‘Thai variant’ and the recent surge of infections in Vietnam due to a hybrid
On Friday, the Labour Party front bench member went further and suggested the Thai variant was also responsible for a surge of infections in Vietnam.
The party spokesman, without evidence, suggested it was linked with the Thai variant of the disease.
However, the variant now striking Vietnam is a ‘hybrid’ of the disease combining both the Indian and UK variation which a top Thai doctor, Dr Wasun Chantratita of the Centre for Medical Genomics at Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, warned this week is quite ‘dangerous’ and something that Thailand must guard itself against.
Vietnam has seen a worrying spike in recent weeks after being among a list of countries which, up to that point, had been left relatively unscathed by the pandemic with daily infection numbers in single or lower double digits.
Called for Thailand to be placed on the ‘red list’
Mr Thomas-Symonds criticised the UK government’s use of the amber designation in the three light system saying it was not designed to prevent the importation of what he termed another dangerous strain.
‘It is beyond reckless that countries with worrying Covid variants and rising case numbers were not added to the Red List on Thursday 3 June, at the very least,’ he said, referring to Thailand. ‘There is a terrible sense of déjà vu witnessing yet more variants reaching the UK, outbreaks of the variant first discovered in Thailand is in addition to those of Brazil, South Africa and India.’
Thailand currently listed in the ‘amber’ category along with most countries in the world which means some restrictions making travel difficult enough
The Labour Party politician, who is also a barrister and a member of the House of Parliament for Torfaen in Wales, called on the Home Secretary Ms Patel to at least put Thailand on the red list.
The traffic lights indicative system currently shows Thailand in the amber category.
This means that anyone travelling to the United Kingdom including returning holidaymakers will be required to take a Covid 19 test before departure and the result must be negative.
‘Red list’ means returning passengers must pay for a 10 day stay in hotel quarantine in advance as well as the other Amber measures already imposed
They will also be required to book Covid-19 tests on days two and eight on their return to Britain, complete a passenger locator form and self-quarantine for 10 days.
If Thailand was to be put on the red list, then all passengers, including returning holidaymakers, would be required, in addition, to quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel and pay for their stay in advance before travelling or returning home.
The announcement of a ‘Thai variant’ caused considerable disquiet among officials in the kingdom when reported at the end of May.
Thai officials express frustration with the UK over the categorisation of C.36.3 variant as the ‘Thai variant’
A key official with Thailand’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) Dr Udom Kachindhorn pointed out that the new strain had not been detected in local transmission within Thailand.
He said bluntly that authorities in the United Kingdom should have consulted with Thai officials before making their announcement.
Dr Udom pointed out that a sample of the new variant had not been sent to public health officials in the kingdom.
Indeed, this Friday, the Thai Department of Medical Science confirmed the dominant strain of the virus in the kingdom is the ‘Alpha’ strain or what was previously know as the UK variant which sparked the lethal third wave of the virus in April.
It is thought to have originated in Cambodia and now accounts for 90% of all infections.
Should be termed the ‘Egyptian variant’
The variant is one of the growing list that is being looked at by health experts across the world.
Public Health England, the executive arm of the UK health services, did confirm that the C.36.3 variant was not more infectious than normal nor did it render any vaccines ineffective.
Dr Supakit Sirilak, the Director-general of the Thai Department of Medical Sciences also came out against the use of the term ‘Thai variant’ after it was reported in the United Kingdom.
‘In principle, the origin was in Egypt. So it could not be called the Thai variant. It should be called the Egypt variant,’ he declared.
Onerous restrictions on both sides for potential tourists from the United Kingdom to Thailand
For UK nationals thinking of visiting Thailand for a holiday, this is just another impediment.
For the majority of potential travellers, even the current Amber coded measures are simply too burdensome.
There are also restrictions on the Thai side with all potential foreign tourists to Thailand requiring a Certificate of Entry which must be applied for through a Royal Thai embassy or consulates which takes extensive paperwork in addition to a waiting period and a list of requirements including insurance and a negative Covid-19 test.
After that, only Phuket, from July 1st, is offering a holiday without state quarantine but even here visitors must submit and pay for Covid-19 tests and spend 14 days on the holiday island before being free to travel elsewhere while in Thailand.