Toying with Covid peril
A fresh proposal to halve the state quarantine for foreign tourists to seven days could damage trust in the country's health system if it is implemented without thorough consideration.
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will today examine Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn's proposal to cut the quarantine period.
The move is aimed at boosting the government's ambitious plan to provide a special tourist visa (STV) that will allow long-stay visitors, the first international arrivals in almost six months, to enter the country from Oct 1.
The ministry proposes shortening the period to seven days in mid-November if the first two groups of 300 foreigners complete their 14-day quarantine on Oct 15 and Oct 21 without a positive case.
Under the plan, tourists will still have to complete two swab tests, a strip test and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. After they complete seven-day quarantine, they can go anywhere they want, according to the minister.
Mr Phiphat's move is understandable as he is keen to ensure the health of a tourism sector vital to economic recovery.
The tourism industry, along with related businesses, provides incomes to millions of workers. Tourism revenues accounted for 18.6% of GDP last year, of which as much as 12% came from foreign tourists.
ฺHowever, reducing quarantine to seven days might be going too far, particularly at a time when global infections are still high, with more than 300,000 new cases a day, and second waves occurring in several countries.
Some European countries have tried to cut the quarantine to 10 days but only on a trial basis. Tawee Chotpitayasunondh, an adviser to the Minister of Public Health, last week voiced support for a 10-day period.
The proposal to cut the quarantine to seven days in Thailand is shorter than the guidelines of the World Health Organization which maintains a recommendation of 14 days. This could affect trust in Thailand's healthcare standards.
Thailand's admirable record in curbing Covid-19 has showcased the country's health care system which will help its push as one of the world's top medical hubs. But the move to reduce quarantine to below the international standard will adversely affect that goal.
In terms of infection, the risk of a second wave of mass infection cannot be overlooked.
Yong Poovorawan, a renowned virologist attached to Chulalongkorn University, previously mentioned the possibility of some people who have completed 14-days of quarantine still testing positive for Covid-19, even if the chance might seem remote.
Based on studies of those who were under state quarantine, he said traces of the virus can be found during the 11th-14th day in about 8% of cases; that's compared to 92% in the first 10 days of quarantine.
Dr Yong's information clearly suggests the proposed seven-day quarantine is not safe.
Cutting the quarantine period without scientific grounds to support it will do more harm than good. The economic problems will only worsen if a second wave of the outbreak occurs.
Any proposal concerning visits by foreign tourists which exposes locals to a higher risk of infection needs thorough and cautious consideration. At the very least, effective measures to track and control those tourists would be needed before implementation.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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