The government will extend the state of emergency through October as it plans to reopen the country to foreign visitors.
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday approved the extension of the emergency decree through Oct 31, according to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.
The panel also approved special tourist visas for foreign tourists starting next month, Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said.
After the panel endorsed the measures, the cabinet will likely give them the final green light on Tuesday.
The one-month extension to the state of emergency would be the sixth since the initial order in March. The emergency rules allow the government to enforce mandatory quarantines and streamline disease-control plans without multiple approvals from various agencies. The measures were set to end on Wednesday.
Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesperson of the panel, added after the meeting that for the long-stay group, visitors would be issued special tourist visas. The Tourism Ministry and Foreign Ministry will later set conditions in the best interest of the country, he said.
For businessmen, non-immigrant visas of various types will be issued for those who do not have work permits. Copies of bank statements showing deposits over the past six months of not less than 500,000 baht, or the equivalent, are required.
As well, an estimated 100,000 of several hundred thousand Apec Business Travel Card (ABTC) holders — businessmen screened and approved by 18 Apec countries — will be allowed in. However, they will be limited to those from low-risk countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, he said.
Tourists seeking to visit Thailand for both short and long terms may also enter. Foreigners wanting to stay for 60 days may seek a 30-day extension, but like the businessmen group, they must have copies of bank statements showing deposits over the past six months of not less than 500,000 baht, or the equivalent.
For sports, the panel allowed foreigners to enter to compete in The Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's Cup Tour of Thailand 2020, an annual professional road bicycle racing stage race, to be held during Oct 6-16.
The route is from Samut Songkhram, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon and Ranong to Surat Thani. The foreign cyclists will be placed in quarantine for 14 days at the Rattanakosin Hotel.
The panel also approved in principle the Badminton Association of Thailand’s bid to host the BWF World Tour in January.
Thailand has managed to control the coronavirus outbreak quickly and to gradually restart most parts of its economy since May. It has so far reported 3,545 cases and 59 deaths, and the majority of its recent cases were found in state quarantine.
However, the economy, which is also reliant to manufacturing, is on track for its worst contraction on record as the pandemic disrupted international trade and travel.
The limited number of visas to foreign visitors is aimed at testing the nation’s readiness for a wider tourism reopening in the coming months as part of its efforts to boost the ailing sector. The government wants some foreign visitors to return because they made up two-thirds of the country’s tourism receipts before the pandemic, and many businesses are struggling to survive a long period without foreign visitors.
The country is trying to strike a balance between minimising risks of infections and reopening for foreign visitors who could help rescue its economy. Foreigners who wish to visit the country will need to seek a special visa, get tested for Covid-19 before departure, and agree to more tests and a quarantine upon arrival.
While the government said that there’s some interest from groups to want to stay in the country long-term, critics said the programme might be too costly for many visitors, who need to pay for health insurance that can cover at least $100,000 in Thailand, a hotel quarantine and charter or private flights.
Tourism is an important part of the economy, contributing to about one-fifth of its gross domestic product. The pandemic has devastated the industry, which provided more than 3 trillion baht in revenue from about 40 million foreign visitors in 2019.