Thai quarantine flip-flop throws holidays into doubt

Thai quarantine flip-flop throws holidays into doubt

Tourists wear protective masks and other gears at Suvarnabhumi airport on Wednesday. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Tourists wear protective masks and other gears at Suvarnabhumi airport on Wednesday. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Thailand threw possibly tens of thousands of holiday plans into confusion after Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul ordered any new arrivals from nine countries and two territories to undergo quarantine for the coronavirus, before swiftly reversing the decision.

Mr Anutin posted an announcement Tuesday saying travellers from affected countries would be subjected to a 14-day quarantine "without exceptions".

The countries were China, South Korea, Japan, Germany, France, Singapore, Italy, Iran and Taiwan. Hong Kong and Macau were also included on the list.

The post was removed hours later, and his official Facebook page was taken down.

Mr Anutin is no stranger to gaffes.

Last month he lashed out at "Western" tourists for not wearing face masks, suggesting they should be expelled for putting others at risk. He later apologised on his Facebook page.

Tourism is a lynchpin of Thailand's economy, but the government has struggled to balance health concerns and virus control with salvaging flagging growth as Chinese visitors have evaporated.

The beginning of 2020 was supposed to bring 7 million tourists to Thailand, but numbers have tumbled in the wake of the epidemic.

Mr Anutin's apparent moment of indecision — which fanned waves of concern on Twitter among Thais and foreign travellers — was played down Wednesday by Public Health Ministry spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin.

"We have to wait which country would be designated as a risk country," said the spokesman during a daily press briefing, explaining that Mr Anutin needed the list to be "reviewed".

Similar uncertainty pervades the government's handling of the return of some 5,000 undocumented Thai labourers — nicknamed "little ghosts" — working in South Korea.

Premier Prayut Chan-o-Cha said Wednesday the workers who came from South Korea's two hardest-hit areas — Daegu and neighbouring North Gyeongsang province — would be subjected to quarantine.

"This will make people feel more at ease," he said.

The others will return to their hometown where provincial health officers will monitor them daily, said an official from the Department of Disease Control.

South Korea has reported than 5,300 cases and 28 fatalities.

The government's lack of monitoring of the returnees has spurred growing public anger after various accounts showed haphazard screening at Bangkok's airports.

Thailand has reported 43 confirmed infections and and one fatality linked to the virus.


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