Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has announced that Thailand will reopen to visitors within the next four months, as the nation seeks to find a way to revive an economy badly damaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The target set by the prime minister would put the country’s reopening around the middle of October although he also called on key tourist destinations to reopen sooner if they are ready.
Speaking during a nationally televised speech on Wednesday, the Thai leader set out the government’s ambition to revoke Covid travel restrictions that have lasted for more than a year, and allow tourists to return and kickstart the economy.
“Reopening the country is one of the important ways to start reducing the enormous suffering of people who have lost their ability to earn an income,” he said.
While the country of nearly 70 million people has only administered less than five million vaccine doses so far, Prayuth said that reopening to tourism was a “calculated risk”, but economically necessary.
Thailand’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and revenue in this sector has plunged by an estimated US$50 billion, according to the Asian Development Bank, due to the country’s inability to welcome visitors amid the pandemic.
Later this year, when travel restrictions are relaxed, fully vaccinated foreign travellers will be allowed to visit Thailand and travel around the country without having to quarantine.
From July, Phuket, which is Thailand’s most popular island and has the highest percentage of vaccinated citizens, will begin a trial reopening in the hope of providing a roadmap for other parts of the country.
Prayuth outlined the government’s aims alongside an announcement that Thailand has secured 105.5 million doses of Covid vaccines in 2021, with plans already in place to secure more next year. The state is hoping to speed up its inoculation drive from July by administering an average of 10 million doses each month.
The Thai government managed to contain the virus by imposing strict border restrictions as the pandemic spread globally, limiting the cases reported there to just over 200,000, according to data provided to the World Health Organization.
However, the country has seen a surge of coronavirus cases in recent weeks after months of successfully keeping their outbreaks in check.