News that Ministry of Public Health officials including Minster Anutin Charnvirakul supported the move to restart ‘Test and Go’ this week sparked speculation in the Thai baht driving its value up so that losses this year have all been wiped out. This comes despite news from Washington that the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates in March. There are also plans to make the new entry regime more conditional.
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), meeting on Thursday, is expected to give the green light to the resumption of the popular ‘Test and Go’ entry regime for foreign tourists from February 1st next but with stricter conditions including a requirement for a second COVID-19 test within the first week of a visitor’s stay in Thailand.
Thai officials meeting in Bangkok on Thursday are expected to lift the suspension of the popular ‘Test and Go’ entry regime in what will be seen as a major boost to the foreign tourism industry and its prospects in the coming months.
However, key officials are still pushing for stricter controls on the process in light of the threat posed by the more infectious Omicron virus strain of COVID-19 which is presently causing record levels of infection in Germany and France prompting a broadside from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday when it issued a statement warning that the virus pandemic is ‘nowhere near over’ despite the easing of restrictions in countries across the world who are witnessing stabilising or dropping numbers.
Secretary-general of the National Security Council says foreign tourists must be tracked for 7 days
On Wednesday, the Secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC), General Supot Malaniyom, emphasised that officials are determined to maintain some ability to track tourists for the initial 7 days of their stay with a regime falling short of quarantine.
He also suggested that alternative and more convenient arrangements are being made to offer incoming visitors who do test positive for the disease. This will include hotel accommodation with medical oversight.
He said there must be some way of monitoring foreign tourists in the opening period of their stay in Thailand.
Proposal for a second PCR test
He was speaking after a meeting at Government House in advance of Thursday’s important meeting of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) where a decision on the issue is expected.
There is talk of requiring a second PCR test for the virus within the initial 7 day period possibly on days 5 to 6 as is the case currently with the expanding network of sandbox schemes which have proved far less popular with prospective foreign tourists.
‘Test and Go’ restart fully supported by Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn who predicts at least 8 million visitors in 2022
Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said on Wednesday that his ministry will now push for the resumption of the popular entry programme from February 1st.
On that basis, he expected that the kingdom could achieve at least 8 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2022 or 20% of that seen in the record year of 2019.
Minister Phiphat also emphasised that the new entry regime will involve two PCR tests as opposed to only one previously. He also accepted the damage done to the industry by the suspension of the winning formula on December 21st last.
Tourism is the key to reviving the Thai economy faster says minister as he targets ฿480 billion
‘Tourism is the engine that can revive the overall economy the fastest. It is important to resume travel activities, which have slowed since the suspension of the Test & Go scheme,’ the minister declared.
He forecast foreign tourism receipts of ฿480 billion this year based on 8 million arrivals but felt that this figure could go as high as 15 million if all things went well in the months ahead.
The 15 million foreign tourist arrivals would involve substantial numbers of incoming visitors from Russia, India and what was formerly the country’s largest tourism market of origin, China, currently sealed off by Communist party authorities in Beijing and zealous local government officials throughout Thailand’s densely populated northern neighbour.
CCSA to extend Emergency Decree further
Mr Phiphat explained that the target figure of 15 million visitors would also involve the reopening of Thailand’s borders with its neighbouring countries including Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
The 8 million target figure for foreign tourists includes western tourists together with arrivals from South Korea and Japan.
The meeting of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Thursday is also expected to rubber-stamp an extension of the Emergency Decree for at least another month beyond the end of January.
It will also extend sandbox foreign tourism provisions to other areas of the kingdom bringing the total to 13.
Spectacular rise of the Thai baht since Tuesday despite confirmed fears that interest rates in the United States will rise from March this year, boosting the dollar
The Thai baht rose spectacularly on Tuesday on the strength of a more positive outlook for the country’s foreign tourism industry now widely accepted as not only a key generator of GDP but a trigger for cash distribution within Thailand’s wider economy.
On Wednesday, the baht had risen to its highest level this year at ฿32.98 to the US dollar wiping out all losses and exceeding its value at the end of 2021.
This is despite hawkish sentiment in Washington DC where the US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates as early as March this year.
Singapore bank suggest speculation in the Thai currency based on the news from Bangkok
Analysts with OCBC bank in Singapore, on Tuesday, attributed the baht’s startling gain to speculative trading on the currency after comments by Thailand’s Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, who led the charge late last year to re-impose stricter controls and suspend the ‘Test and Go’ regime before Christmas.
He has now come out in support of its reintroduction although with stricter conditions which will have some negative impact.
‘This push may well be speculative, as there are still no signs that tourist inflows will return in sufficiently large numbers to justify sustained baht appreciation,’ the OCBC spokesperson said.
Public Health minister supports reopening Thailand again under ‘Test and Go’ after Omicron wave fizzled
On Monday, Minister Anutin confirmed that officials with his ministry would support the lifting of the suspension of the ‘Test and Go’ regime despite officials at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) dismissing such a prospect out of hand only weeks ago.
The minister said that, for now, it appeared that the Omicron virus strain was under control. This was due to public health measures being implemented and the country’s ongoing vaccination programme.
He said that while there was a jump in cases caused by Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, the levels had been far below those caused by the Delta wave last year and did not overwhelm the kingdom’s public health system.
‘Test and Go’ to restart from February 1st
The ‘Test and Go’ entry regime which is open to 63 countries, it is now thought, will be reopened starting on February 1st next for applications through the Thailand Pass service after a hiatus of just under 7 weeks.
In just over 8 weeks, the successful entry process led to 350,000 visitors entering Thailand over the last three months since November 1st despite being suspended for new applicants since December 22nd last.
Ahead of Thursday’s crucial meeting, the spokesman for Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, noted that the COVID-19 situation in the kingdom was currently stable and on a downward trend.
Stance remains cautious but the PM Prayut Chan ocha signals support for people getting on with life
He said that while every precaution must be taken and the country must be prepared, the Prime Minister was in favour of adopting measures and an approach that strives to let people in the kingdom get on with their lives as much as possible.
‘The Prime Minister supports the proposals that allow people to be able to live life as normal as possible. After assessing, the situation is likely to improve. The government will re-evaluate the situation at a general meeting of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation. This is an assessment of the last 20 days after the New Year’s holidays. The meeting will be looking at adjusting measures that are appropriate for the situation taking into account the safety of the people as important. We must reiterate the cooperation of the people to protect themselves strictly has led to consideration of the possibility of relaxation of various measures faster,’ said Mr Thanakorn.
Bars, pubs and entertainment venues to remain shut but Minister Anutin re-affirms his sympathy for operators in the sector suffering hardship
All officials linked with Thursday’s meeting have made it clear that there is no prospect of allowing the reopening of bars, pubs or entertainment venues, at this point, with the threat from the virus remaining a very real prospect.
On Monday, Minister Anutin warned that such establishments represented the greatest risk to the country and differentiated between restaurants serving alcohol in contrast to normal pubs and bars which he said still posed too great a risk.
He underlined that public health officials are minded to look again at this sector and accepted that it was easy for salaried officials to make sweeping and hard decisions that have so great an impact on entrepreneurs and the self-employed trying to make a living.
He said that officials at his ministry will be proposing amendments to make the ‘Test and Go’ entry format safer if it is to be reintroduced but all matters will ultimately be decided on at Thursday’s meeting.