A UK man with a wife who was seeking to visit her terminally ill mother found the Thailand Pass application extremely stressful this week as officials announced an overhaul of the online system. Figures for the first 11 days show a 14% rejection rate although approvals through the system since last week have improved. The Prime Minister’s Office, on Monday, expressed optimism about the reopening of the country.
Thai authorities are reported to have upgraded the Thailand Pass system to include a new status checker for anxious travellers experiencing difficulties with the online application process since it began operating on November 1st. Officials, in the meantime, are encouraging potential travellers to allow at least 7 days to obtain their required QR codes to enter the country. One UK traveller, Luis Avellano, this week, warned other travellers to be wary. ‘My advice to anyone is not to bother, it’s too stressful, you’ve been warned,’ he said. On Monday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha expressed satisfaction with the latest figures which show 44,774 arrivals up to Saturday last.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced changes to the Thailand Pass system with a new status check feature for visitors to check their application status while in progress.
The ministry has also announced several hotline numbers which are available on the website so that anxious applicants can obtain further information about the process.
Reports suggest that the helpline is being managed quite well by officials with calls being answered within three minutes although some travellers have expressed continued frustration with the response from Bangkok to problems they are experiencing.
Hotline numbers give coherent and useful guidance to anxious travellers waiting for QR entry codes
In general, the response to questions on the hotline is being reported as coherent. Users report helpful tips and an insight into how the process is working.
Despite this, Tanee Sangrat, the Director of Information at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has promised further improvements as his ministry gathers feedback from travellers and applies it to improve the experience for incoming visitors.
There is also evidence that Thailand Pass is improving in terms of its response to applications and approvals.
More airlines flying into Bangkok
On Monday, government spokesman, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana revealed that 19 more airlines had requested slots at Suvarnabhumi Airport, bringing the total number of flights linked to the Southeast Asian hub to 2,008 while flights in Phuket have also risen by 39%.
It comes after the airline industry reached a low point in September when 80% of available flight slots at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport were handed back to the Airports of Thailand (AOT) until March 26th 2022.
Reopening set back after nightlife industry and bars are to stay shuttered until at least January 16th 2022
The more positive news is coming as there are heightened concerns that the reopening will lose momentum after authorities, on Friday, postponed any prospect of a reopening of nightlife venues and the entertainment industry until at least January 16th 2022.
The decision was made by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
It is understood to have followed a recommendation for the Ministry of Public Health which is concerned about a possible resurgence of the virus given the nature of such activities and the experience in Europe.
Thailand still has a vaccination rate of only 51.3% although it is well above 70% in key areas that have been reopened to foreign tourism and where the reopening of the nightlife scene and bars is being sought to boost the foreign tourism industry.
Officials are warning travellers to allow at least 7 days for approval as UK national slams Thailand Pass app
Officials in Thailand are urging prospective passengers travelling to the kingdom to allow a minimum of 7 days for approval of QR codes in their travel plans when booking flights and coordinating arrangements as the safest way to avoid stress from the system.
British man, Luis Avellano, slammed the Thailand Pass entry system for passengers to the kingdom after he and his Thai wife ran the gauntlet as they awaited approval for his 13-year-old daughter as well as his Thai partner in the last week.
‘I too would have given up if it was just for tourism alone. And would definitely advise anyone else not to bother – seriously,’ he said after tangling with the process while organising an urgent trip to return with his Thai born wife and daughter to Thailand.
The UK national had received his own QR code quite quickly.
Returning to Thailand after a family emergency
The family were trying to return to the kingdom as an emergency to be there for his wife’s mother who is terminally ill.
With only 72 hours to go before the family’s flight was due to take off from the UK, they had still not received the QR codes and risked losing over £2,000 or ฿88,000 on flights and accommodation which is not refundable.
‘This is so stressful and frustrating that I can’t even begin to explain, especially added to the fact that a close relative is dying. And what’s worse, is that when this was explained during the call to the ‘helpline’ they couldn’t even care less, there was no compassion whatsoever,’ he said on Wednesday.
Some potential tourists are threatening to cancel their trips because of the difficult QR code entry process
He was waiting for the QR codes while still having to fork out another £180 or ฿7,920 on PCR test for the family in the coming 48 hours not knowing if he was facing a cancelled trip or whether the family would be flying.
Another caller to the Thai Examiner, on Saturday, told us that he and his Thai wife are now considering postponing a trip to Thailand because of the ongoing problems and the postponement of the country’s reopening of its nightlife.
The man’s wife, who is from Nakhon Ratchasima, had managed to submit her application but her UK husband is having problems entering his details. He has recently obtained a visa for the trip which he also described as an arduous process.
‘There are easier places to visit and spend our money, right now visiting Thailand is like a roll of the dice and if you win it’s not exactly the jackpot given what I’m hearing here about the pubs over there. If you lose, it’s a nightmare. It’s madness really.’
Calls for a one ticket family application process
The other UK national, Mr Avellano, explained he could not understand why families were not allowed to make one application under the government’s system as it is a key issue emerging and causing stress to travellers when some members of the family are approved while others are left in limbo.
‘I think it’s a lot harder also for families than for single travellers. I received my QR code after two days but my wife and daughter still have not,’ he explained.
He said his family had been forced to book alternative quarantine for seven days as his daughter had only one vaccine dose according to UK medical advice and standards.
However, for the purpose of the application to travel to Thailand, this meant that she was considered unvaccinated.
‘I am British, my wife is Thai and my daughter is British, 13 years old but not 12,’ he disclosed this week. ‘Right there is one of the many problems. Children aged from 12 to 15 years are only given one COVID vaccination and considered fully dosed under UK policy. Whereas in Thailand they are considered unvaccinated. So because my daughter has only had her one dose we all have to go into the 7-day sandbox program. Whereas if she was 12 and ‘unvaccinated’ we could all go into the one day program instead of the 7-day sandbox, as myself and my wife are fully vaccinated’.
Prime Minister has called for the system to be improved and work is ongoing on the live application
The shambolic nature of the Thailand Pass system drew a response last week from Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who asked for the system to be upgraded.
His spokesman, Mr Thanakorn, acknowledged there were problems with the system including bugs and delays for applicants receiving the necessary QR codes to travel.
In response, this week, to the growing and increasingly negative media coverage of the flaws in the system, the technical staff with the Digital Government Development Agency worked on it live to optimise its functionality and processes.
There are still reported to be problems with its ability, under heavy demand, to verify the complex series of requirements laid down under the various entry regimes which are ‘Test and Go’ for fully vaccinated passengers from 63 countries, the Blue Zone option for vaccinated passengers from other countries limited in their stays initially to 17 sandbox areas with a range of conditions and thirdly, those entering under alternative quarantine seven day stays.
It is normally best practice to debug and test online apps before going live particularly for an online system performing such a critical, time sensitive function impacting millions of people.
Problems cross-referencing vaccine certificates worldwide with many being manually reviewed
It is reported that one of the problems is the verification of QR codes issued by countries worldwide with some countries not included on automatic referencing systems to which the ministry has access.
There are also reports that information supplied by users does not meet the detailed conditionality laid down by the application process in the first place.
While this may be a user issue, the complexity of the schemes devised by the government, in particular the need to have Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus approved hotels with hospital partners has been flagged as another key issue.
Data emerging from the system’s operations up to Thursday 11th November, concerning 147,503 applicants, suggests that 14% of QR application processes were rejected while 63% were approved to that point.
The latest figures released by the Prime Minister’s Office to the 13th November show 173,637 applications with a 77% approval rate suggesting the system is improving.
The earlier data confirmed that 33,948 applications were under review with 57,048 vaccine certificates having required manual verification by staff.
71% of arrivals are fully vaccinated passengers from the 63 countries eligible for ‘Test and Go’, most require manual verification of certificates
It is reported that 35,872 people who applied were automatically approved which may explain reports by some travellers that they received their QR code within hours while others have reported days of waiting under increasing strain and pressure.
It is understood that passengers with an unvaccinated status entering into quarantine on arrival are among those numbers being instantly or automatically approved. However, based on the first 13 days of arrivals this only accounts for 5% of visitors or an estimated 2,144 up to November 13th.
The figures show 71% of arrivals entered under the ‘Test and Go’ regime. This covers 63 designated countries and requires passengers to be fully vaccinated and subjects them to one COVID-19 PCR test over a pre-booked one night stay at a Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus hotel.
24% are arriving under the Blue Zones sandbox programmes.
This means that staff at both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Health are coordinating in relation to the approval of 95% of arrivals, many of which require manual scrutiny.