Don't forget the nightlife industry
Despite a rise in Covid-19 cases, the decision to not impose curfews, lockdowns, or close public spaces and restaurants is a welcome change by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Ample data from abroad and at home has shown that the Omicron variant is less deadly. And when coupled with a strong vaccination rate (71% fully vaccinated), the Public Health Ministry's decision to declare the disease endemic by the end of the year is a promising indication of better days ahead.
Perhaps buoyed by this announcement, the CCSA has even gone as far as announcing it will soon stop its daily updates of Covid-19 infections and focus only on new clusters.
While this is good news for most, it's doubtful the nightlife industry is celebrating as it's been dealt a serious blow by the pandemic. Although some bars are now back in operation at a limited capacity after acquiring "proper" licences, there remains no clear policy as to when establishments can return to business as usual.
Some are worried of the negative long-term effects these closures will have on Thailand's appeal as a lively and fun destination.
While it is important to be cautious and minimise risk, if we are to accept life with Covid, should we not also stop living in fear? Visit any popular restaurant and take note of how many safety measures are being skirted.
Early in the pandemic, the premise for a ban on alcohol sales was that it enabled risky behaviour, but with booze now flowing freely in some restaurants, is the risk of spread at 12am greater than at 11pm? Or is this a move to rein in on what some consider "immoral behaviour"?
Given that some nightlife establishments also now require a negative antigen-test kit result to enter, once the peak of this current wave subsides, a clear set of guidelines should be provided on when nightlife can return to full capacity.
Besides the continued ban on fun, the process of entering the country under the Test & Go Programme or sandbox destinations also requires a rethink as it has made trips to the kingdom expensive and riddled with uncertainty.
A family trip in which each member is required to undergo costly RT-PCR tests despite being fully vaccinated and having a negative test result prior to arrival is eating away at Thailand's competitive advantage as a cost-effective destination.
After a strong debut in November, a new rule was added months later to Test & Go which required tourists to undergo an RT-PCR test on day five as well (Test & Go Version 2).
This came at a time when the country was already seen as not having a clear policy after ditching the "Certificate of Entry" for the "Thailand Pass", both of which have had onerous requirements and have seen some people wait weeks for approval (while others, a mere few hours).
The decision to make Test & Go stricter (the second PCR requirement has been dropped now in favour of self-reporting an ATK test result on day five) during the height of the tourism season was a poor decision as early data had already indicated Omicron was milder and nearly impossible to keep out.
With most people ready to move on with life, online travel platform Expedia's head Peter Kern has predicted that summer 2022 will be one of the busiest travel seasons ever.
Countries in the European Union, the US, and Australia in recent weeks have moved to ease pandemic-era travel barriers, ease entry restrictions and drop mask mandates. With most people unable to travel in the past two years, experts are expecting pent-up demand.
Although May-September is traditionally the low season in Thailand, entry regulations should be evaluated and further eased to restore the country's tourist-friendly reputation if it wants to tap into the lucrative market it has become accustomed to over the past decade.
At this stage, Covid-19 and Omicron are here to stay. If we are to truly ditch the Covid-zero policy of previous years, forcing tourists to test upon entry when local spread has been established is counterintuitive.
Furthermore, not forcing people to rack up hospital bills and chase insurance companies to pay for expensive stays after testing positive for a mild case, when home isolation will suffice, will help us move on from this pandemic.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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