Thailand’s reopening plan in November triggers mixed reactions

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BANGKOK, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) — Fully vaccinated visitors from 46 low-risk countries and regions including China will be allowed to enter Thailand quarantine-free from November.

The recent announcement has not only raised hopes for Thailand’s economic recovery, but also sparked concerns.

Affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Thailand’s tourism-dependent economy shrank by 6.1 percent last year, which has put tremendous pressure on the government to open up the economy again soon.

As the outbreak has slowed down in the past month and the nationwide vaccination has picked up pace, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha set the date for reopening the country on Nov. 1.

He admitted there were still risks, but “millions of people who depend on the tourism, leisure and entertainment industry can no longer afford to miss out on a second New Year holiday.”

In Thailand, the winter months usually make up the peak season for inbound tourism. According to the Kasikorn Research Center, the number of visitors to Thailand will rise to around 180,000 this year from its previous forecast of 150,000, generating no less than 13.5 billion baht (about 406 million U.S. dollars) in revenue.

Tourism is one of the pillar industries in Thailand. The country witnessed nearly 40 million foreign tourists in 2019. However, the number plummeted to 6.7 million last year as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, leading to a sharp rise of unemployment in tourism-related industries.

Considering the current COVID-19 situation in Thailand and in the rest of the world, the government’s opening plans came with specific conditions. Foreign tourists can be exempted from quarantine if they enter from low-risk classified regions where they have stayed at least 21 consecutive days.

Further, hotel quarantine for the first night will be necessary in order to wait for the result of their on-arrival COVID-19 test. Those who are not fully vaccinated are obliged to quarantine for 10 days at qualified hotels.

Although previous tightened border measures have harmed the tourism industry and put considerable financial pressure on the Thai economy, many locals keep a wary eye on opening up the country for international travel.

According to a recent poll conducted by Thailand’s Suan Dusit University, nearly 60 percent of respondents opposed the opening of quarantine-free inbound tourism in November. Another poll by Thailand’s health ministry also found that 94 percent of respondents were worried about these plans.

Sluggish vaccination is one of the main reasons for public concern. Although more than 70 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the country, only about 42 percent of the population have received two doses, still far short of the government’s target of 70 percent.

In the health ministry poll, more than 70 percent of respondents said the government should increase prevention measures and accelerate nationwide vaccination to raise public confidence in the reopening plan.

Although the situation in Bangkok and its vicinity, the worst-hit area by COVID-19, has gradually improved, conditions in four southern provinces and in Chiang Mai are heating up. Authorities have sent a special task force to tackle the pandemic, and adopted partial containment and accelerated vaccination.

In addition, some health experts have openly expressed concerns that border opening might lead to a new wave of outbreak.

Local media quoted an expert at Chulalongkorn University’s School of Medicine as saying that, learning from Chile and Denmark, the daily number of new coronavirus infections in Thailand could surge dramatically once it opens up.

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