Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul on Monday was more cautious when he confirmed that the government was moving towards endemic status but stressed that conditions must be right in all provinces and that decision-makers must listen to medical and scientific panels set up to advise them under law.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, on Monday, struck a positive note about the country’s performance in attracting incoming foreign tourism and fears over the impact of the Songkran holidays on the virus situation as the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) is due to meet on Friday the 22nd April to discuss a move to abolish RT-PCR testing for incoming tourists and at which more radical proposals may be tabled by the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, to altogether abolish the ‘Test and Go’ and ‘Thailand Pass’ controlled entry regime for incoming travellers who are vaccinated. At the same time, a voice critical of such easing of restrictions in the past, Dr Thira Woratanarat of Chulalongkorn University, also on Monday, warned that Thailand currently has a rising death rate from the virus and that the country’s prevention policies need to be reassessed on the basis of placing more value on human life.
On Monday, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul, speaking at Government House in Bangkok, told reporters that it would take approximately two weeks to assess the impact of the Songkran holiday period on the trajectory of the government’s fight against COVID-19 and plans to ease restrictions, particularly on incoming foreign tourism to the kingdom.
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However, he confirmed that the government is committed to declaring an endemic status for the disease in due course but would make sure that conditions in each province justify such a move.
Travel sector calls for endemic status, scrapping of Thailand Pass and full normality on entry to the country
Minister Anutin seemed to emphasise a more devolved approach to the virus emergency than a national one, at this point, as the process moves forward.
Each province to monitor the virus, conditions to be right everywhere before endemic status is declared
He stressed that each province now has its own approach to detecting cases and monitoring infection levels, deaths and vaccination figures.
Commenting on the figures that he had seen recently for COVID-19 infections, he said that they were in line with expectations and international standards.
However, he indicated that the proposal to replace an RT-PCR test on arrival for visitors to Thailand on May 1st with an antigen test was still a matter that had to be decided by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) based on an assessment of the latest data.
Plans to ease pandemic related restrictions face a review by scientific advisory panels set up by law
He said the government had prepared plans to step up efforts to protect the most vulnerable in society and to have an adequate supply of medical treatments such as the drug Favipiravir, an antiviral drug that has been used extensively to treat symptoms of COVID-19 in Thailand by the health service.
He said that while the government has signalled a commitment to ease COVID-19 restrictions further for incoming foreign travellers to boost economic growth, there was also a need to consult and listen to key committees set up to offer independent scientific advice on the matter under legislation.
Prime Minister was upbeat about the situation during the Songkran holidays and foreign tourism outcome
On Monday also, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan ocha struck an upbeat tone when he told reporters that people can be reasonably happy with the way matters are currently progressing.
He said the government was in the process of monitoring the situation carefully but, thus far, it had seen nothing to change its analysis of the situation before the holiday period.
He thought that matters would become easier to decipher in approximately a week from now.
At the same time, the PM urged everyone including the media posse and reporters to exercise caution in relation to their own health and to use antigen tests, where appropriate, at this time.
‘Today it has been reported that everything is still in accordance with the pre-estimation of the situation. It will take about a week for all people travelling to have their own checks. Might have to protect myself. Some of you may have to stay at home. I ask that ATK be used properly and appropriately,’ he said.
General Prayut expressed satisfaction at the growing number of foreign tourists already arriving in Thailand but insisted that the country must still be wary of the threat posed by the virus and a pandemic still raging throughout the world.
Tourism minister’s plan to axe ‘Test and Go’ regime
Thailand is widely reported to be working towards a target date of July 1st to declare the virus in the kingdom endemic and thereby lift all entry restrictions on travelling into the country.
In the meantime, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, has promised to bring forward proposals to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) when it is next due to meet on Friday next, April 22nd, to make a decisive move to axe the ‘Test and Go’ entry regime and the ‘Thailand Pass’ system and instead allow all vaccinated visitors access to the kingdom subject only to an antigen test on arrival.
There have been growing indicators that further relaxation of these regulations could boost already rising numbers of foreign tourists.
This potential boost to the economy is coming in a year that is seeing export growth expectations tamped down from an expected growth rate of 10% to 5% and with rising inflation and falling consumer confidence.
Top doctor and consistent critic of easier access to foreign tourists warns Thailand faces rising death rates and is ranked 6th in the world for cases
Such an approach, however, to the ongoing pandemic may be premature according to Dr Thira Woratanarat of Chulalongkorn University who has repeatedly, over the last two years, accused planners of underestimating the threat of the disease in Thailand.
Dr Thira has repeatedly argued against allowing more liberal access for foreign tourists to the kingdom since the crisis began in March 2020.
On Monday, he pointed out that Thailand currently has the 6th highest level of COVID-19 cases in the world and that the deaths announced on Monday accounted for 23.61% of all deaths from the virus in Asia.
He warned that while global deaths were dropping, Thailand still has a rising death rate from the disease.
He also criticised what he claimed was the exclusion of antigen testing from official figures and said that the kingdom’s rising death rate currently went against global trends suggesting that something was wrong with the country’s prevention policies.
He said that these policies need to be reviewed if the people involved in making such decisions value life itself.