Thailand’s reopening to foreign tourism amid a continued COVID-19 outbreak is sending a signal that the government is determined to push forward on a pledge given by the Prime Minister in June. However, it is clear that this is not foreign tourism as we had known it before the pandemic and neither will it be accompanied by anything like the same figures despite modest signs of improvement in Phuket.
The re-opening of Bangkok has been postponed until mid-October following a high-level meeting on Wednesday as efforts are being made to allocate more vaccines to the city where only 37% of the population is, as yet, fully vaccinated. Following the meeting, the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said he was confident of this date being achieved and, on a wider basis, that Thailand was offering a safe environment to welcome incoming foreign tourists although this is still under a ‘new normal’ regime including the Certificate of Entry process, mandatory proof of vaccination and the limiting of foreign tourist to Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus facilities as approved by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Following a meeting between the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Governor Asawin Kwanmuang on Wednesday the reopening of Bangkok to foreign tourists has been postponed until October 15th.
Warning from Pattaya hotel industry boss of a Chinese takeover, loss of income to the wider Thai economy
It follows comments by Mr Phiphat some weeks ago suggesting that he did not think Bangkok would be ready to reopen until November 1st as the 50 districts of the city must achieve a figure of 70% of the adult population fully vaccinated.
Bangkok, known for its nightlife, was repeatedly voted as the world’s top global destination before the pandemic attracting up to 22.7 million visitors a year
The minister has now said that he is sure that the metropolis, voted the world’s biggest destination before the pandemic in MasterCard’s Global Destinations surveys in 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017 with up to 22.7 million visitors.
The city is particularly known for its vibrant nightlife.
Public health officials now estimate that the level of vaccination required for the reopening of the capital will be achieved by mid-October.
This emerged at a high-level meeting on Wednesday between all key agencies involved.
More vaccines to be allocated to the city’s catch-up vaccination campaign to meet the October 15th goal
However, the minister cautioned that this target still depends on the Ministry of Public Health expediting the allocation of more vaccines for Bangkok.
‘We have been discussing and exchanging information and opinions for a long time. Until we came to the conclusion that Bangkok should be able to open on October 15th after more than 70% of the people in the area have received 2 vaccinations. We will open together in all 50 districts throughout Bangkok. Currently, more than 90% of the population in Bangkok has received the first dose of vaccine. If we speed up the second dose vaccination to 70% of the population by October 15th, 2021, we will be able to open Bangkok on that day. I will immediately bring this matter to discuss with the Ministry of Public Health in order to expedite the allocation of vaccines further,’ Mr Phiphat said after his meeting which included a head to head with the city chief.
At present, it is understood that only 37% of the population of Greater Bangkok have been fully vaccinated.
Minister Phiphat was bullish that the deadline would be met across all 50 districts of the sprawling capital
There was some suggestion on Wednesday that the demanding conditions set by the Public Health ministry were contributing to the slow rollout although tensions between the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the national public health agency is nothing new during this crisis.
It has already been confirmed by the Ministry of Public Health that all entry controls including state quarantine and the Certificate of Entry process will still be maintained after October 15th.
However, fully vaccinated arrivals will be exempt from quarantine but subject to stick controls depending on where they are staying including a testing regime and compliance with a local programme.
October reopening of foreign tourism to Thailand could be another false dawn with a cumbersome entry regime
Nevertheless, Minister Phiphat was bullish that the mid-October deadline would be achieved and on its positive implications for the country’s goal of getting back to normal and resuscitating the foreign tourism industry.
Bangkok must open together with all 50 districts says Minister and the city Governor, ‘together is better’
He highlighted that Wednesday’s decision was about putting the health of the public first and that the whole extended city area including all 50 districts would open together.
‘I’m sure that on October 15th, Bangkok can open to foreign tourists at the same time in all districts in Bangkok. For the convenience of tourists, the governor said that if they opened, they would open all at once. If you’re not ready, it’s going to be difficult to open in a circle, so wait until the 15th. We open at the same time, together is better,’ he said.
Earlier reopenings going ahead on October 1st
The minister made it clear that the October 1st reopenings of Chonburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Phetchaburi and Chiang Mai were going ahead on time.
However, he explained that there was still a requirement that all those who made up the required 70% vaccination rate must have had one dose of the AstraZeneca jab.
He explained that achieving herd immunity may take some time because, for many, it is the second injection in the course.
Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus scheme is an essential part of Bangkok’s plan for tourists
He also made clear his ministry’s determination to implement the Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus scheme across restaurants and hotels in Bangkok.
Incoming foreign tourists will be required to use such facilities and all venues that are approved by the Tourism Authority of Thailand will be required to display the symbol of the scheme.
On Wednesday night, the minister, in a social media post, explained to the public that Bangkok’s reopening to foreign tourism posed the biggest challenge for the government because of its large population and its extended links with many of its adjacent provinces such as Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan.
Bangkok poses a difficult challenge for officials to implement a reopening to tourists under ‘new normal’ conditions of entry and control
The minister explained that, on Wednesday, he had held in-depth talks with officials from the Ministry of Public Health, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and his own ministry to coordinate the reopening.
He said this was the first meeting and that the project must be handled carefully. He invited entrepreneurs and business people to join in the discussion as officials work their way through the task.
Bangkok will now be joined by 21 other provinces and locations which are also scheduled to open on October 15th under what the minister described to the Thai parliament, earlier this month, as the ‘new normal’ for Thai tourism.
Thailand will not see anything remotely like pre-pandemic levels of visitors as it honours the PM’s pledge to reopen its borders to the world
This regime is unlikely to see figures, even at full swing in the last quarter, remotely near the levels achieved prior to April 2020.
Thai officials are targeting 1.2 million visitors in the last three months which would be approximately 10% of what was achieved in 2019 but the figures are likely to be a fraction of this. So far in 2021, the figure is not even 1%.
He said officials are sending a signal that the government is determined to reopen the country in line with a commitment given by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha in June this year.
Minister dismissed concerns about persistently high infection rates in Phuket saying it was under control
Mr Phiphat was asked on Tuesday about the Phuket Sandbox scheme and persistently high levels of infection on the resort island but dismissed concerns by pointing out that the high numbers were due to active testing on the island particularly among the migrant community servicing it’s fishing fleet and associated industries.
The minister said foreign tourists coming to Thailand to avail of the new reopening schemes can be sure that they are entering a safe environment, free from the virus.
There is some indication that tourist numbers into the Phuket Sandbox scheme have picked up marginally after what looked like a dip in August.
On Wednesday, Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) revealed that the island had seen 32,005 visitors since the scheme opened on July 1st last.
Only 0.28% of incoming foreign tourists to Phuket tested positive after arrival from July 1st to date
Only 91 of those or 0.28% had tested positive after arrival as part of the extensive and costly Covid-19 testing regime.
The public health official, known for his hawkish warnings, sounded a note of encouragement concerning the plans to reopen the country to foreign tourism now underway.
‘This gives some breathing space for people who depend on tourism,’ he said when commenting on the overall position regarding the virus and the apparent efficacy of vaccines.
Tourists from the United States were the largest component of visitors accounting for 17.71% or 5,668 visitors followed by the United Arab Emirates and Israel at 3,699 and 3,358 respectively.
These were followed by the United Kingdom at 3,338, Germany 2,897, France 2,671, Switzerland 1,101, Qatar 1,004, the Netherlands 693 and Belgium 521.