Heinecke urges eased quarantine

Heinecke urges eased quarantine

Herd immunity prioritised by government

The country must ensure tourists do not have to worry about Covid-19 infections while visiting Thailand for its reopening plan to work, says the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

A mostly empty Suvarnabhumi airport on May 9.

"At least 70% of the population in each destination has to be vaccinated to prevent tourists from being exposed to the virus. Spread to tourists would destroy our reputation," said Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the tourism and sports minister.

The country plans to gradually reopen for tourism with the Phuket sandbox model on July 1.

Even though the government has committed to rolling out mass vaccinations in Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan from June to July, these areas are not expected to reopen for tourism until Oct 1. He said Bangkok might achieve herd immunity in July, but the city has to be certain about safe conditions before reopening.

Mr Phiphat said the government may restart its visa on arrival service for low-risk countries in the fourth quarter at the earliest. Thailand is awaiting word from the Chinese government on its travel policy.

In a related event on Thursday, Minor International (MINT) encouraged the government to restart the tourism industry by offering nationwide quarantine-free entry for vaccinated tourists who test negative.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, William Heinecke, MINT founder and chairman, said quarantine-free entry should not be limited to specific areas because vaccinated tourists from low-risk countries who test negative, wear face masks, and are tracked present a much lower risk of transmission and should be able to travel freely.

A 14-day quarantine period is unwarranted as there is no report indicating easing quarantine to 7-10 days has caused a new outbreak, said Mr Heinecke. The new wave most likely emerged from local transmission.

"Any quarantine requirement for travellers will make Thailand uncompetitive against other tourism destinations that allow convenient entry," he said.

The Foreign Ministry should work on travel agreements with countries with low to moderate risk for quarantine-free entry, said Mr Heinecke. He said a clear system for vaccine passports must be immediately established along with the reintroduction of visa exemptions to make travel easier.

The mass vaccination scheme for residents should be accelerated and embassies should provide vaccines for their citizens abroad, said Mr Heinecke. The Thai government should procure sufficient vaccines from multiple sources, he said.

Chamnan Srisawat, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said fully reopening the country to inoculated travellers would help restart tourism, but the country has to create herd immunity to gain the confidence of tourists and preserve local sentiment towards foreign arrivals.

"We have to be safe first before deciding to reopen the whole country," said Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, head of the Association of Thai Travel Agents.

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