Travel plans hit by coronavirus
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Travel plans hit by coronavirus

Thais shun S'pore, Japan after advisory

A passenger walks past a flight check-in information screen at Suvarnabhumi airport on Jan 3, 2020. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
A passenger walks past a flight check-in information screen at Suvarnabhumi airport on Jan 3, 2020. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The Public Health Ministry's new travel advisory for Japan and Singapore is sparking concern among Thai tourists, many of whom are asking tour operators to refund their tickets.

The ministry on Tuesday advised people to delay travelling to Japan and Singapore while the two countries grapple with deadly coronavirus (Covid-19).

Those who cannot avoid visiting the two countries should take measures to protect themselves and prepare to be screened for the virus on their return in line with standard practices, said Sopon Iamsirithaworn, head of the Disease Control Department's Communicable Disease Division.

Thai health authorities have extended coronavirus screening to cover visitors from Japan and Singapore after the countries reported local contagion cases.

Last year Thais paid more than 1.3 million visits to Japan, which scored high on their list of top destinations.

Sukhum Kanchanapimai, permanent secretary for public health, said that the virus outbreaks in Japan and Singapore had reached "Stage 3", of domestic transmission between locals with no record of meeting Chinese people. Thais who had visited the two countries in the past 14 days, and have fever or exhibit other symptoms, must visit a doctor and would receive treatment free of charge, he said.

Since Feb 1, some 31,336 Thais have travelled via Don Mueang airport to Japan and 6,545 Thais to Singapore, the Immigration Bureau reported on Tuesday.

Travellers on Tuesday mulled cancelling trips to the two countries after the ministry advised tourists to stay away from high-risk countries.

Charoen Wangananont, vice-president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said a large number of Thais mistakenly believed the ministry had banned travel to Singapore and Japan.

"Actually, it simply urged the public to postpone their trips to at-risk destinations. Over 100 tour operators have received inquiries from people who planned their trips in advance," he told the Bangkok Post on Tuesday.

Mr Charoen said even though travellers are cancelling their trips, airlines and tour operators cannot refund their customers because they are still operating normally.

"Since low-cost airlines are not refunding tickets, how can tour agents refund the money? Who will be responsible for damages? You can't let tour operators shoulder the financial burden," he said.

A tour operator who asked not to be named said 30% of her customers planning to visit Singapore and Japan have already asked for refunds after the ministry's announcement.

"There are still Thais who want to visit Vietnam and South Korea. However, [the advisory] is dealing a heavy blow to other tour operators. I have not seen any government measures to help us yet," she said.

Meanwhile, the Thai embassy in Tel Aviv has issued an advisory for Thais to postpone trips to Israel "until further notice" after its health ministry imposed a 14-day house quarantine on visitors from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau.

Organisers of the Thailand Health Expo on Tuesday decided to reschedule the event from March 4-8 to Sept 2-6.

Meanwhile, a 74-year-old Chinese woman who received a "Thai cocktail" of HIV and flu drugs was discharged from hospital on Tuesday after making a full recovery from severe Covid-19-related pneumonia .

Dr Narong Aphikulvanich, deputy director-general of the Department of Medical Services, said the cocktail of drugs was now being administered to three other Chinese people and a Thai patient.

Seventeen Covid-19 patients in Thailand have made a full recovery, while confirmed cases remained unchanged at 35 on Tuesday. Since Jan 3, a total of 817 patients have been placed under investigation for the virus and 82 hospitalised.

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