Monday, January 18, 2021

Thailand changes tune: acceptable tourist Covid-19 numbers now zero

Public health is winning out over business survival.

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Governments are struggling to come up with an acceptable number of Covid-19 cases to enter a country via air travel. According to Thailand’s Tourism Minister the answer now is zero.

Speaking about the country’s proposed special tourist visa, the minister said: “First phase tourists arriving under the scheme must be 100% Covid-19 free.”

Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says if this is not achieved, then the reopening plan will be halted indefinitely.

“Before we approach the second stage on Nov 17, which aims to shorten the quarantine period, we must evaluate the first phase. If there’s even a single case, we cannot continue to the second phase.”

Given the number of infected Thai returnees in the past three months, that 100% scorecard appears unrealistic.

Last month, the message was, “If there are five cases among five million tourists, and we can contain those infections with stringent measures, that would be a good balance between public health and business survival.”

So last month the target for imported cases was  “almost zero”, this month that’s now been reduced to “absolutely zero” – an almost impossible target to hit.

Rather than this being an unpopular point of view, many Thais not employed in the tourism industry think it’s the right way to go, says Southeast Asia travel industry consultant Hannah Pearson.

They are watching the second wave in Europe and North America in horror and think closed borders are a price worth paying to avoid the same thing happening to them.

It’s this way of thinking that has reduced Thai Airways to selling food on the street in Bangkok in a desperate attempt at making some money.

At the end of August, a group of prominent Thai doctors came out against the proposed very limited and strictly controlled reopening of Phuket, calling instead for a total border shutdown for another six months.

For now, public health is winning out over business survival.

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