Tourism ministry sets January date to reopen
Move depends on herd immunity level
The Tourism and Sports Ministry vows to open the whole country without quarantine by January next year, but such a move largely depends on nationwide herd immunity.
Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the tourism and sports minister, said Bangkok was scheduled to reopen in October as part of the second phase for the country, but this phase has been delayed to November as the majority of residents will not receive their second vaccine dose until the end of October.
"The plan for Bangkok is more challenging as it has extended territory covering vicinities that require more elaborate standard operation procedures [SOPs]," he said.
Meanwhile, Chiang Mai, Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin) and Chon Buri (Pattaya) will go ahead as planned on Oct 1, as well as Phetchaburi, which hasn't yet started its SOPs and needs to speed up this month, said Mr Phiphat.
At a meeting between the ministry and the Tourism Authorities of Thailand (TAT) on Friday, he said they agreed to add some provinces to the third phase of reopening under the 7+7 extension programme.
As a result, from Oct 15 there are 25 provinces tourists can enter via the sandbox programme as second destinations after spending seven days in one of these destinations: Phuket, Samui, Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Phetchaburi and Bangkok.
"We need to propose that list to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration in order to allocate a proper amount of vaccines for them in time," said Mr Phiphat.
However, if vaccination does not reach the required level in certain areas, select districts can be isolated or a sealed route is possible in the early stages, he said.
"Only safe areas can reopen to Thai tourists on Nov 1, while international tourists are expected to enter without quarantine from January, led by travel bubbles with neighbouring countries starting on Jan 15," said Mr Phiphat.
The key condition is Thailand must achieve herd immunity as determined by the government within this year.
"As Thailand is still recording daily caseloads of more than 10,000 and was downgraded to the red list for some target markets, the number of tourists this year might not exceed 300,000," he said. "However, if Thailand can return to the safe list this month, there are promising signs in the last quarter we can hope for 1.2 million travellers."
TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said areas scheduled to reopen in October are preparing SOPs for entry under a quarantine-free approach, as seen in the Phuket sandbox.