Omicron will not affect reopening, says Phiphat

Omicron will not affect reopening, says Phiphat

Relaxation of booze sales on the cards

Chinese tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport during the first day of the country's reopening on Nov 1. REUTERS
Chinese tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport during the first day of the country's reopening on Nov 1. REUTERS

Thailand will not take a step back from the reopening plan despite uncertainty over the Omicron variant and the Tourism and Sports Ministry will also propose more relaxation on alcohol sales from the afternoon to lift the festive sentiment.

"Nobody wants another border closure as it was really difficult for us to reopen the country. Our economy still suffers from the crisis, so there will be no more border seals unless we are in a very critical situation," said Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Tourism and Sports Minister.

He said international travellers during the first 29 days of reopening numbered over 100,000, which doubled from three months of the Phuket sandbox. The figures proved that a quarantine-free strategy is the right way to attract tourists.

As the country recorded 200,000 tourists in the first 11 months, the ministry expected 300,000-400,000 tourists would visit Thailand by year-end, thanks to the winter season.

However, the plan to replace RT-PCR tests with antigen test kits for the Test and Go scheme from Dec 16 has to be postponed until there is more clarity on the Omicron variant to prevent possible caseloads of over 20,000 per day as seen during the recent wave.

"We have to accelerate the vaccination plan for residents which could help guard ourselves against the possible new wave. By December, our country will complete 110-120 million doses for the entire population and such protection will at least avoid severe conditions for those who are infected," said Mr Phiphat.

The number of vaccines required for the tourism industry is approximately 3.5 million doses, of which 3 million were requested by the Tourism Council of Thailand. The ministry will coordinate with the Public Health Ministry to allocate booster jabs for tourism employees as soon as possible.

Mr Phiphat said he will discuss with the cabinet today about allowing the sale of alcohol in blue zone areas until after midnight during year-end celebrations and unlocking sales from 2-5pm as the current rules don't permit booze sales during those hours.

The proposal will be submitted to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration for approval.

Mr Phiphat said the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) will organise countdown events in five regions including Ayutthaya, Nakhon Ratchasima, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Chonburi with a budget of 100-120 million baht, focusing on supporting local artists.

TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the new variant hasn't affected travel sentiment so far.

However, the European market has started to see slow bookings in December due to concern over another lockdown triggered by the spread of the new variant.

But if there's no threat from Omicron, the number of international arrivals this year should reach 500,000.

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