Reopen with caution

Reopen with caution

Controversy is flaring up over a proposal to reopen Bangkok for inoculated tourists without quarantine.

While the issue seems more complicated than that seen in other sandbox areas, local and government policymakers must prudently decide when and how to open the capital amid a dangerous and unpredictable pandemic.

Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana previously said the government planned to reopen Bangkok and four other provinces -- Chon Buri, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chiang Mai -- for foreign visitors on Oct 1.

The move is seen as an effort to achieve Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's goal announced on June 16 that his government would reopen the country within 120 days, falling in October.

This has raised concerns among health experts over the possibility of the healthcare system having to battle with another outbreak if the government insists on reopening the tourism industry as early as Oct 1.

Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the tourism and sports minister, however, said the appropriate timeline for Bangkok's reopening should be Oct 15 since the capital has yet to reach 70% full vaccination.

Still, Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang insisted he never set a deadline for opening on either Oct 1 or Oct 15. The city, he said, is likely to reach the target of 70% vaccinated by Oct 22.

The governor insisted it is he who has the authority to decide when and how the capital will reopen.

As the dreaded Covid-19 spreads across the world, city after city has been locked down, logistics and travel have been cut off, hitting local businesses and the economy hard, not to mention people's way of life.

It's not wrong that the government wants to do what it can to get the country and business activities back up and running.

But with the pandemic still far from over, the government needs plans in place to prepare for future waves of outbreak.

Reopening the capital does not mean only allowing vaccinated foreign visitors to come without quarantine.

It also means businesses and activities will have to reopen to welcome tourists, including shoping areas, pubs and bars and other entertainment venues.

This why health authorities have recommended at least 70% of the population be fully vaccinated to achieve herd immunity before reopening.

At present, only 37% of Bangkok's population has received full vaccination, not to mention the third booster shot.

The government must not forget that due to its mishandling of vaccine procurement, it has had to administer inactivated Sinovac vaccine to some people.

Health experts have agreed that immunity developed by the inactivated vaccine will drastically drop within a few months after a second shot and now many people who were administered two shots of the Sinovac vaccine have met that threshold and they need a booster shot.

Unfortunately, as of yesterday, just 196,435 Bangkok residents, or 2.2% of the city population, had received the booster shot.

As a result, even if 70% of Bangkok people are fully vaccinated, that does not mean the capital will achieve actual herd immunity.

If the government insists on rushing the reopening, it must prepare effective plans and resources to deal with trouble down the track.

Returning business and people's lives to normal is the ideal but it should not be driven for political purposes.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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