Thailand is moving cautiously to reopen its borders with a new plan to allow foreign visitors to stay in the country for 90 days, extendable up to 270 days under a special tourist visa scheme (STV), which is projected to generate 12 billion baht a year.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday the cabinet had approved the STV in principle and it was aimed at long-staying tourists who arrived intending to travel extensively around the country or access Thailand's healthcare facilities, regarded as among the best in the world.
The policy is expected to become effective next month and last until November next year.
Gen Prayut described the scheme as a possible answer to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. "I would like to call on Thai people to support this project because it can contribute to the economy," he said.
The PM said those awarded the special visa would be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine at a hospital or certified alternative state quarantine (ASQ) hotel upon their arrival.
Traisuree Taisaranakul, deputy government spokesperson, said the STV had been proposed by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
The scheme, she said, was intended to lure quality visitors and prop up the tourism industry and related businesses hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Traisuree said the government was forecasting the scheme to require one to three flights a week for STV tourists, generating an extra one billion baht every month.
Long-staying visitors would be keen to travel to Thailand and undergo quarantine due to its success in bringing the coronavirus under control, she said.
She stressed that the special visa would only be issued to foreigners who agreed to undertake the mandatory 14-day quarantine and comply with the country's disease control measures.
They must also have proof of their long-stay plans, such as paying for accommodation or evidence of ownership of condominiums, where they will stay after completing their quarantine, plus a Covid-19-free certificate and sufficient travel and health insurance.
Ms Traisuree said the visa would last for 90 days and cost 2,000 baht but it could be extended twice, each for a further 90 days. Those interested would need to apply to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Meanwhile, a total of 421 people who came into close contact with the Uzbek football player infected by Covid-19 have been tested and most of them have been confirmed negative, according to the Department of Disease Control (DDC).
The 29-year-old football player at Buriram United tested positive on Sept 10 after finishing his 14-day state quarantine.
The DDC has already identified 508 people who came into close contact with the infected player. Altogether, 100 people were identified as being at high risk of infection and 421 were tested. Negative results were recorded for 382 people and 39 others are still awaiting their results.
In another development, the Immigration Bureau (IB) is preparing to sue a Twitter user who claimed that most foreigners arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport were not being quarantined.
IB commissioner Pol Lt Gen Sompong Chingduang said Immigration Division 2 has been assigned to gather evidence and take legal action against the user for spreading false information.
Pol Col Choengron Rimpadee, deputy commander of Immigration Division 2, said on Tuesday foreign visitors were obliged to undergo quarantine, even if they were only arriving for health treatment. Those visitors were being quarantined in hospital and were required to provide trip itineraries, as well as the relevant permits from Thai authorities.
In Tak province, 10 Myanmar nationals were arrested near the border in Mae Sot district on Tuesday, all without travel documents.
The seven men and three women were found by a patrol of police, soldiers and immigration officials. All have tested negative for the virus.