Help Thais come home

Help Thais come home

As the tough war against the coronavirus gets under way, the Prayut Chan-o-cha government is facing growing calls to review flight check-in directives that make it difficult for Thais abroad wishing to come home. And it should listen seriously to the voices of those in trouble.

According to media reports, several thousand Thais are currently stranded abroad because of the controversial directive, issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), that requires them to present health certificates before boarding flights back to Thailand. The certificate under the directive, which was put in place on March 20 and initially covered 11 high-risk counties, is a "fit-to-fly" paper granting approval to return from the local Thai embassy. Later, the CAAT extended the requirement to cover returnees from all countries.

This requirement has caused a major stir as Thais abroad, both students and travellers, have found it impractical and nigh impossible to secure the necessary medical paperwork to gain a certificate from embassies. It has been suggested that these stringent measures were implemented to actively deter Thais from returning and placing a further burden on health authorities that are already working hard to contain the virus.

Some Thais stuck abroad have had lawyers petition the Administrative Court on their behalf to cancel the directive, but the court threw out the plea as it was of the view that the state is able to issue such harsh directive now since the country is in a state of emergency. Yet, the agony is real.

It's true that the high number of Thai returnees may pose a coronavirus risk as many of them wish to travel home to escape outbreak hotspots, such as the US and some countries in Europe. But the Prayut government should know it is wrong to close the doors on its own citizens.

More importantly, the authorities should review the directive on the grounds that the risk can be managed through stringent measures like self-quarantine. Not every returnee is infected with the virus. Take a look at the group of Thai students under the American Field Service cultural exchange programme who came back from Italy on March 15. They were allowed to go back to their home provinces over the weekend after serving the mandatory 14-day quarantine in Sattahip, without one having been diagnosed with Covid-19.

Yesterday, parents of students who were studying under the same programme in other countries were to ask for the government's assistance in facilitating the return of their children, like those from Italy. The result of their plea was not known at press time.

The government should lift the directive, and instead implement necessary measures to mitigate the risk of infection. This is a matter of management. It may seek cooperation from education institutes, which are now closed as a result of the lockdown, or private hotels, or even sections of airports which have become empty since international air travel took a nosedive in the wake of the pandemic. Nevertheless, in principle, each traveller should fund his or her own flight.

The revision of such regulations should be swift as the airline industry is about to shut down completely for the time being as foreign governments close their borders entirely. The government must act fast or face an even harder task in bringing these citizens home.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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