Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has also announced the postponement of the foreign tourist levy from April to June although the plans to attach the fee to airline fares may be in contravention of a 1944 convention pointed to by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Thailand’s main opposition Pheu Thai Party has taken aim at the Test and Go foreign tourist entry scheme which is recording strong numbers initially for applications and approvals in the first week with over one hundred and fifty thousand applications submitted in 8 days. Ms Treechada Srithada, the party’s deputy spokesperson took issue with the fact that foreign travellers were free to travel throughout the kingdom after one day while only being required to return for one night to a hotel for a second test on Day 5 of the scheme. Ms Treechada claimed this allows incoming travellers to spread the disease around the kingdom before a second test result. It comes amid rising COVID-19 cases in the kingdom which the government insisted on Tuesday would begin to level off this week although top spokeswoman, Dr Apisamai Srisangson, maintained that a guarded approach to the situation is important with a spiral in cases in some provinces expected. At the same time, Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul insists that the country is moving towards an endemic status for COVID-19 this year and putting the crisis behind it.
Thailand’s main opposition Pheu Thai Party has voiced its concern about the government’s revised Test and Go foreign tourism regime as the number of cases of COVID-19 appears to be increasing in the country although primarily driven by the Omicron variation of the disease.
This comes as the government has made it clear, even over the last 48 hours, that it is moving towards treating the virus as an endemic disease.
Status of COVID-19 to be downgraded from March 1st says Public Health Minster Anutin despite reservations from his deputy with rising cases
On Monday, Minister of Public Health and Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul emphasised that the status of the virus in Thailand was being downgraded as he announced that from the 1st March 2022, COVID-19 will no longer be a medical condition covered under the country’s Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (UCEP) scheme.
This is a change that will affect members of the Thai public using the government’s public health system. It means anyone suffering from the disease will have to register with the hospital where they are recorded for state welfare purposes if they test positive for the virus and wish to be covered for associated medical expenses.
The government’s decision has been questioned by the Deputy Minister of Public Health, Satit Pitutacha, a Democrat Party minister. He called for the move to be postponed in the light of rising cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks.
Government is guarded but moving to put the pandemic behind it as it predicts lower case numbers
On Tuesday, Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration spokeswoman, Dr Apisamai Srisangson, also underlined the government’s resolve to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind it when she announced that the rise in virus cases has been anticipated by experts and that the situation will begin to stabilise shortly.
Commenting on Monday’s reports of 14,900 new infections and 26 deaths, she revealed that all the fatalities were among people aged 49 to 99 years of age and that they all had underlying conditions.
‘All of them had underlying illnesses. Fourteen were unvaccinated. Two had received one vaccine dose. Two others had their second dose more than four months ago. Two had already received their third dose but had not reached the time when their immunity would peak yet,’ she explained.
She told reporters that although case numbers had appeared to multiply over the last few weeks or since the start of the year, from this week, they are expected to taper off.
Official says wrong to assume Omicron is less severe
However, she insisted that the government was still on guard against the disease and also took issue with the popular view that the Omicron strain of Covid-19 was less severe.
There is also underlying concern about a predicted increase in the number of patients who will require respirators in the next few weeks as several provinces in the kingdom are struggling with a spike in infections.
‘We can’t be complacent yet,’ she commented. ‘It would not be correct to conclude that Omicron is less severe.’
Dr Apisamai said that currently, over 80% of cases in Thailand were of the Omicron strain with the Delta variant making up the balance.
Pheu Thai Party expresses real concern about large numbers of visitors entering Thailand through Test and Go and free to travel within the first 5 days
The statement from the Pheu Thai Party came from deputy spokesperson Treechada Srithada who highlighted the large number of people who were approved to enter Thailand through the government’s Thailand Pass system from February 1st to 8th last.
She pointed out that 143,902 people had been approved to enter from 154,893 applications.
She questioned the arrangement where visitors who include returning Thai nationals to the kingdom, are only required to book a hotel on the 5th night of their stay to have a 2nd PCR test for the disease undertaken.
The relaunched Test and Go entry regime is now open to travellers from all over the world and allows potential holidaymakers, visitors and returning Thai nationals to book their entry into the kingdom up to 60 days in advance.
Under new rules, a 72 hour advance notice period must be allowed for before entry into the kingdom to avoid confusion and allow for the smooth processing of applications.
Call for reintroduction of state quarantine system
Ms Treechada warned that the arrangements were not conducive to curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the kingdom because she feared it would let visitors carry the disease all over the country. She also claimed that the government was unable to control the current situation.
At the same time, she called for the reintroduction of state quarantine for Thai nationals residing in the kingdom who she said should not have to fund expensive hotel bills to return home.
She also called for free Antigen test kits for students in school to reduce the financial burden on parents.
Foreign tourist levy postponed until June for administrative reasons says Minister of Tourism who defended the measure which includes insurance cover
Meanwhile, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, has confirmed the introduction of the ฿300 tourism levy for all incoming tourists, which will also pay for basic medical insurance during their stay up to ฿400,000 in the event of an emergency in Thailand, will be postponed until June this year.
He explained that this was to allow legal implementation of the regulation including a 90 day notice period from its publication in the Royal Gazette as well as arrangements currently in train with airlines to apply the charge to non-resident foreign nationals who fly into Thailand.
Mass tourism to return again in 2021 with 10 million visitors targeted and full insurance cover with arrival levy
Minster Phiphat, this week, said the ฿300 charge or approximately $10 compares favourably to other countries and pointed out that the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan charges foreign tourists between $200 and $250 a night while claiming the Indonesian island of Bali also has a charge of $10 while Japan has a charge of $9.25.
Imposition of a charge for entry into Thailand may run counter to international civil aviation charter
New Zealand has a charge of $23.94 per person but this is a visa charge levied for conservation purposes with both France and Germany applying a rate of $5.71.
Spain which has the largest foreign tourism industry in the world however only applies a charge of $2.85.
The minister also pointed out that Thailand has lower indirect tax rates than the United States which applies a charge of 16.25% on hotel and accommodation charges.
However, it should be pointed out that Japan’s tourist tax is on departure from the country while the tourist levy in Bali, which was first drafted in 2019, has yet to be put into effect while the charges in Germany and France are imposed on nightly hotel room charges as a direct tax.
There are some concerns that the ministry’s proposals for a tourist tax, charged by airlines for entry to the country via international air routes, also contravenes the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.
This is a point raised in the past by the world aviation body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), concerning proposed national tourist charges on entry to any country.