The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has halted applications for the "Test & Go" entry programme for air travellers and decided to add three more provinces to the sandbox scheme following a surge in Covid-19 infections.
CCSA spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin said the suspension had been proposed by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports after a number of travellers under the scheme tested positive recently.
"The 'Test & Go' entry programme is a loophole where the Omicron variant can evade screening, so we decided to further suspend the scheme," he said.
Dr Taweesilp said it is estimated about 10,440 further passengers are to enter the country via the programme between Jan 7-15 and that represents a manageable number. That forecast is based on statistics showing that about 30% of pre-approved arrivals have already entered the country, he said.
However, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has told the CCSA that the rules can be reviewed if the Covid-19 situation improves, he said.
Dr Taweesilp said the CCSA has agreed to add Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan in Surat Thani and the entire provinces of Krabi and Phangnga to the sandbox programme from Jan 11 onwards.
He said the CCSA has also cancelled its list of eight high-risk countries because infections have surged worldwide.
Delayed reopenings were also announced in Trat (Khlong Yai), Sa Kaeo (Muang and Aranyaprathet), Nahon Phanom and Ubon Ratchathani (Muang and Sirinthorn).
Tanee Sangrat, director-general of the Department of Information under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insisted yesterday travellers who received approvals and their QR Code under the "Test & Go" scheme before the CCSA's decision are allowed to enter under previous conditions up until Jan 15.
However, those who have received approvals and a QR code for the scheme but are not departing until after Jan 15 will have their status re-evaluated.
Those traveling under the sandbox scheme, in which they are obliged to stay in their designated area for seven days, or visitors who will be entering via an alternative quarantine, can still enter Thailand under those conditions.
From Jan 11 onwards, international travellers can also apply to enter areas in the expanded sandbox scheme which now covers Surat Thani (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao), Krabi and Phangnga provinces in addition to Phuket.
He said these provinces have a high level of preparedness in terms of provincial management and public health measures and will be able to contribute to promoting provincial island tourism.
For international travellers from eight African countries which are currently subject to stricter entry requirements, Thailand will lift that designation from Jan 11 onwards.
International travellers from Africa will be allowed to enter Thailand under the same regular conditions as international travellers from all other continents, he said.
He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the related ministries have discussed and given thorough consideration to these adjustments, bearing in mind all of the important factors, from the domestic and international Covid-19 situation to public health readiness to the need to relax measures to boost economic activity.