Thailand may scrap its two-week mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors with proof of Covid-19 vaccination as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to revive its pandemic-hit tourism industry.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday his government will consider allowing visitors who can produce a vaccination certificate to skip the quarantine and authorities will come up with a plan to track them during their stay in the country.
The plan to ease rules for tourists signal a shift in Thailand’s stance after months of insisting all visitors must stay in quarantine in the absence of enough evidence that inoculations can prevent virus transmission. If implemented, the move could bolster Thailand’s tourism sector that contributed about one-fifth to the nation’s pre-pandemic economy.
"If this goes ahead as planned, it will be a big boost to tourism and economy," Nattaporn Triratanasirikul, an economist at Kasikorn Research Center in Bangkok, said adding the government may need to weigh health concerns too. "There is still a very high uncertainty on the economic outlook this year, pending all the issues related to the outbreak from local infections, vaccine rollouts and border reopening plan."
The central bank has singled out an uncertain recovery in tourist arrivals as "a major risk" to the medium-term growth outlook, with governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput saying it would be very difficult for the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels without tourism.
The economy, which shrank the most since 1998 last year, will expand this year "at somewhat a lower rate" than the central bank’s December projection of 3.2%, it said this month.
While Thailand has reopened its borders to most foreign visitors since October, strict quarantine rules have kept most tourists away. The local industry has been calling for relaxed quarantine rules to attract tourists from countries that have started vaccine rollouts, such as China, Singapore and the UK.
Shares of Thai hotel and restaurant operators and Airports of Thailand Pcl gained on Tuesday as investors cheered the relaxation of restrictions that were put in place to curb a flare-up in new infections and the approval for vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Thailand is set to receive its first doses of vaccines on Wednesday that will allow it start a national inoculation programme within a week.
Thailand, which aims to inoculate 50% of its population by the end of this year, has also approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine for emergency use. The nation has ordered 61 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, to be locally produced by Siam Bioscience through technology transfer.
The country will eventually allow registration and imports of several brands of Covid-19 vaccines as long as they meet local rules, and private hospitals will be permitted to administer the shots, Gen Prayut said. The government will control the distribution of vaccines only in the early stages, he said.
"Many companies have shown interest to register but their documents are not completed yet," Gen Prayut said. "It is good that we will have more vaccines than the 65 million doses planned by the government now."