The Tourism Ministry will seek a reprieve for some 500,000 tourists who will end up overstaying their visa now that countries in Europe have started sealing their borders to deal with Covid-19.
"Most of the remaining tourists are long-stay elderly travellers from Germany, Italy and Russia who spend their winters here. They came to Thailand before the virus hit their hometowns and decided not to return home. They fear not receiving sufficient healthcare [upon returning home during such dire circumstances]," said Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.
Tourism hit by virus outbreak (Video by Jetjaras Na Ranong)
European countries have been closing their borders since this weekend and flights have been cancelled, making it impossible for tourists to fly back home, he said.
Mr Phiphat told the Bangkok Post that he is going to discuss the matter with the Interior Ministry and Immigration Bureau, as this problem comes under their jurisdiction.
He plans to seek a temporary reprieve for these tourists as well as visa extensions for those whose countries have been affected. He will also ask the authorities to not have overstayers blacklisted.
By law, tourists from most countries can get a tourist visa for 30 days and are fined 500 baht for every day they overstay. Serious offenders can face deportation or be blacklisted, which bans them from re-entering.
Mr Phiphat said the request is for humanitarian purposes, adding that long-stay guests can also help keep local businesses running during this tough time. However, he admitted this is a "delicate" issue and could lead to future concerns about national security.
As for whether Thailand will impose strict measures to stop foreigners from entering the country, Mr Phiphat said Thailand will not shut borders.
"But we will intensify screening along the borders and boost medical checkups for tourists from neighbouring countries," he said. "Thailand has a good reputation for its healthcare and hospitality services, which gives foreigners more confidence. However, since Thais are worried about the outbreak, we have to carefully screen each incoming guest."
Apart from border checkpoints and airports, the 4th Army Region is also strictly guarding natural borders.