Calls for a wider reopening are coming at a time when Thai political parties are gearing up for a General Election likely to be called before the end of 2022. As Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul has been seen as hawkish on efforts to introduce public health measures designed to boost the economy. On Tuesday, he also questioned whether foreign tourism demand could be regenerated so quickly, saying the kingdom was like a restaurant reopening after being closed for some time.
As calls grow for the removal of the Thailand Pass regime to boost foreign tourist numbers, the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul, on Tuesday, put forward a proposal of his own to replace it with vaccine passports on arrival and a requirement that all incoming travellers, seeking direct access and being waved through at checkpoints, must have received a third booster shot. The minister also insisted that the health insurance requirement must be retained. It comes as a Thai Examiner poll throughout April shows over 88% of our readers are calling on the government to drop all controls immediately for those entering the kingdom.
On Tuesday, while taking part in the opening of an event at a shopping centre in Bangkok, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul floated the prospect of replacing the Thailand Pass entry system to the country with a system where COVID-19 vaccine passports are inspected on entry.
However, the minister stipulated that the criteria for unfettered access would be a fully vaccinated status which would have to include a third booster shot which he said was in line with international practice.
Vaccine passports now used across the world but the disparity of systems makes Thailand Pass look good
Vaccine passports are now being widely used across the world and advocates of the Thailand Pass system say the current Thai application helps simplify the difference between the various certificate sources from the European Union’s Digital Covid certificates to New Zealand’s My Covid Record website to a QR code system which is used in Canada while the United Kingdom has the NHS Covid Pass regime which is now used primarily by outbound travellers from the country to show that they have received a third booster shot.
The use of vaccine passports on arrival in Thailand may be a system fraught with difficulty if the public health ministry, as outlined by Minister Anutin, tries to impose a uniform requirement for a third booster shot without an approach that requires prior approval before departure.
Anutin warmed to the idea as he spoke saying his proposal may improve public health protection
The minister suggested that such a move might improve the government’s efforts to prevent further infection from the COVID-19 virus in Thailand.
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin also stressed to his audience that the requirement for health insurance should not be dropped by the government.
This comes with reports, in recent days, of confusion among international travellers seeking insurance certificates showing the now reduced $10,000 requirement which must be compatible with local Thai regulations which one UK travel agency said this week was like a ‘minefield’.
At the same time, policies available on the market have not seen any reduction in premiums since the government, last Friday, halved the coverage requirement from $20,000 to $10,000 with many Thai based insurance firms quoting different prices ranging from a high of ฿12,000 to a low of ฿650.
Health insurance a ‘minefield’ that travellers ignore, opting to see it as a required certificate at a cost
The requirements are largely being seen right now by many travellers purely as a paperwork entry requirement that must be complied with.
Incoming passengers are effectively purchasing a certificate and viewing it as an additional fee to enter Thailand.
Many of these policies have clauses denying responsibility for COVID-19 treatments in certain situations while others have provisions which require those insured to pay some healthcare costs from their own pocket should an emergency arise.
Industry wants a return to normality and points to strong evidence of a potential jump in arrival numbers
Speaking to his audience, on Tuesday, however, the Minister for Public Health, Mr Anutin acknowledged calls from tourism industry leaders to return the country to normality with strong evidence to suggest that travellers to Thailand are looking for a return to pre-pandemic entry procedures with clear evidence to suggest that this could see a significant lift in arrivals for 2022.
Thailand Pass stalling visitors who wish to travel after May 1st as the industry wants the app scrapped
In recent days, the Tourism Council of Thailand has suggested that the country could see up to 12 million visitors in 2022 if the government responds to its calls both swiftly and decisively.
Survey shows 88.89% of our readers want all entry restrictions for arrivals scrapped immediately
This would be in line with a Thai Examiner survey which saw just under 3,600 respondents during April from our readers.
97.22% of respondents said that Thailand should move to scrap all entry restrictions and return to normal pre-pandemic entry procedures immediately.
Is it time to reopen fully with normal visitor access? Have your say here as a Thai Examiner reader (Click to open)
In another question relating to government measures, 88.89% also advocated this way forward, giving the green light to all arrivals from around the world while 6.21% advocated a gradual approach as well as 4.9% of respondents who favoured caution, much like that being pursued by the government and Minister Anutin at this time.
Anutin favours caution saying he doesn’t want to see a reversal of course on his watch while also saying higher foreign tourism demand will take time
On Tuesday, Minister Anutin underlined his position by saying he would prefer to move cautiously and carefully with regard to reopening the kingdom rather than having to reverse course and reimpose further conditions on entry in the future.
The minister has been seen as hawkish towards wide-ranging and simpler proposals to lift entry restrictions quickly, a view which according to opinion polls, is shared by over 68% of the Thai public.
He has successfully, since the end of last year, resisted moves to reopen the country’s nightlife industry with various bars and venues currently only open with official understanding as eateries allowed to sell alcohol in the country’s key tourist areas such as Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
On Tuesday, Mr Anutin suggested that Thailand’s tourism industry was like a restaurant that has just been reopened and needed to advertise itself for a while to boost numbers.
To western visitors, who now make up Thailand’s core foreign tourism market, this is not the case with the country’s entry restrictions being seen as the overriding impediment to the vast majority of foreign tourists.
Bhumjaithai Party gears up for a General election this year, confident of returning more than 100 MPs
With a General Election pending in Thailand towards the end of the year or perhaps early next year, Mr Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party is gearing up with the party meeting in Ayutthaya province on Saturday 23rd April to organise its forthcoming election campaign.
The party heard the deputy prime minister who has played a key role in the coalition government for the last three years, tell his party faithful that Bhumjaithai will field candidates in all of the 100 constituencies throughout the kingdom which under the current election proposal, will return 400 members to the 500 seat lower house of parliament.
He said he was confident that his party could return at least 100 MPs from these efforts in addition to party-list MPs under the proposed two ballot system currently being pushed through parliament.
His party will be campaigning on its key role in supporting the government of Prayut Chan ocha for the last three years which Mr Anutin said had helped create stability in Thailand.
High profile deputy prime minister who has clashed with foreigners several times while in office
The party leader and key advocate of the government’s health policies during the pandemic whose more controversial comments clashed several times during his tenure with the sentiment of foreigners, heralded the discipline his party had shown in power and said its goal was to strengthen Thailand’s position as a regional power as well as the nation’s integrity in every respect.
Last weekend, key supporters and aides to the party’s leadership taking part in the Ayutthaya convention at an urban shopping centre were in no doubt that the Bhumjaithai Party would be nominating Minister Anutin as its candidate for prime minister in the next election.
Bhumjaithai Party sees itself as a party upholding Thailand’s integrity and has overseen key ministries
The party will also be campaigning on its commitment and integrity in keeping its election promises while in power where it has overseen the ministries of Public Health, Transport and Tourism and Sports while its junior minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Mananya Thaiseth, has played a high profile role, particularly in the government’s successful campaign to eliminate pesticide use in crop production, a move which put it at close quarters with strong objections from the United States.
The party has also adamantly pursued its crusade to legalise marijuana and hemp with new regulations currently promulgated and going through a notice period which will leave the country’s law enforcement agencies faced with a difficult challenge to enforce more complicated and somewhat ambiguous legal provisions.
Not riding so high in the polls
Nonetheless, the Bhumjaithai Party is currently trailing in the polls with only 1.88% support according to a National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll at the end of March which also showed Mr Anutin trailing far behind in the public’s preference for prime minister with his name among nine well known political figures at the bottom of the list led by Mr Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party with 13.42% followed by General Prayut on 12.67%.
The combined support for the nine amounted to only 5.59%.
Observers have attributed this to residual public anger at the shambolic nature of last year’s vaccine rollout and lockdown measures.