More agile Covid curbs needed

More agile Covid curbs needed

Reports that the government is considering scrapping the Thailand Pass for locals re-entering the country is welcome news as it will eliminate another travel restriction.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Thursday said the ministry will ask the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), which makes decisions on easing coronavirus restrictions, to consider cancelling the Thailand Pass requirement for locals.

Mr Anutin said that once the pandemic is downgraded to an endemic, there may be no need for the Thailand Pass.

As a result, Thai students, workers, and entrepreneurs abroad can expect fewer bureaucratic hurdles before returning home, making it easier for them to enter the country.

However, it remains mystery why the government, which has desperately tried to revive tourism, did not include foreign visitors -- especially those who are fully vaccinated -- in this plan. The tourism industry has constantly asked the authority to remove Thailand Pass.

The Thailand Pass system is a platform launched last year for visitors and travellers to fill out required immigration entry forms. The system is designed to collect vaccination and travel data for the required paperwork via an online platform.

However, the process of obtaining the pass has been criticised as time-consuming and also one factor discouraging travel, especially group tours on short stays.

The system itself was time consuming and off-putting. After submitting online registration, visitors need to wait for a few days for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to approve and send QR codes for visitors.

Questions about the practicality of Thailand Pass have been raised.

So far, CCSA has eased many travel restrictions such as removing mandatory quarantine, and some mandatory RT-PCR tests for fully vaccinated visitors.

The eased entry regulations have helped boost tourism. The country welcomed 19,727 tourists on May 1, followed by 15,439 tourists and 14,108 tourists on May 2 and 3, respectively, according to Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Those numbers improved from roughly 10,000-12,000 arrivals per day last month as vaccinated tourists are no longer required to show any Covid test results.

But the country needs to ease travel restrictions even more. The government and the TAT needs to bear in mind that neighbouring countries in the region are competing to get tourists too.

Clear examples are Malaysia and Singapore. In April, Singapore eased entry restrictions. Under its eased restrictions, travellers only need to do pre-online registration and download a tracing app few days before entering the country.

Malaysia this month removed Covid-19 testing for all inbound travellers who are fully vaccinated or under the age of 12, and made it optional to wear masks outdoors and check in before entering various premises. Travel insurance will no longer be mandatory for travellers entering the country.

Thai authorities seem to be behind the game. For Thailand, foreign tourists, even if fully vaccinated, must still show proof of insurance coverage worth at least US$10,000 from a list of approved providers.

Despite the easing of entry rules earlier this month, however, Thailand Pass remains for all. Whether travellers are vaccinated or not, everyone entering the country, for now, must have a QR code which the system provides to show to officials, making the entry process tedious.

The government, especially the CCSA, must accept the reality that the Covid situation no longer requires tight border control like previous years.

The Covid caseload has fallen and most patients are local, especially non-vaccinated elders and risk groups, not foreign tourists.

That said, removing restrictions does not mean lowering one's guard. Instead of sticking to inconvenient entry rules, the government should have made use of digital innovations such as a digital vaccine passport and tracing apps to provide convenience for visitors.

The upgraded Mor Chana mobile app helps track travellers who entered the kingdom, but the authorities have failed to popularise it.

Reports emerged in November about authorities spending days looking for 272 travellers from eight Covid-prone countries in southern Africa which had entered the country.

Over Christmas, there was a report of the authority calling police to make a frantic search for a tourist who evaded Covid-19 regulations.

The government as well as CCSA needs to be more agile and adopt new innovations for Covid measures to ease travel restrictions. Sticking to the same old inconvenient entry rules like Thailand Pass can comprise Thailand's tourism competitiveness.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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