Quarantine 'recommended' but enforcement unclear
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Quarantine 'recommended' but enforcement unclear

Travellers from six high-risk areas must report daily health status or possibly face penalties

A view inside Suvarnabhumi airport at 5pm on Monday. The number of foreign travellers arriving in Thailand has fallen by half since the virus outbreak. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
A view inside Suvarnabhumi airport at 5pm on Monday. The number of foreign travellers arriving in Thailand has fallen by half since the virus outbreak. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Authorities scrambled on Friday to ease worries about new self-quarantine measures for arrivals from six virus-hit countries and territories, a day after announcing compulsory isolation.

But confusion persists over whether the government is ordering or merely “recommending” self-quarantine for 14 days, with punishment for travellers who ignore the “advice”.

South Korea, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Italy and Iran on Thursday were officially designated as “dangerous communicable disease areas”.

Public Health Ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kiphati told Reuters on Thursday that people arriving from those six places would be fined 20,000 baht if they did not self-quarantine for 14 days at home or in a hotel room, “where they have to report themselves to the authorities every day or officials will come to check on them”.

On Friday, however, other ministry officials took a slightly softer line.

“For now, we are recommending people to exercise home quarantine. But if you don’t follow that, then we will use the law to take you to government quarantine centres,” said Sukhum Kanchanapimai, the ministry’s permanent secretary.

The government's Public Relations Department, meanwhile, appeared to be reading from a different script. On its verified Twitter account on Friday, it repeated the threat of a 20,000-baht fine for those who failed to self-quarantine.

Tanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of the Department of Disease Control, told reporters the health ministry would issue regulations requiring all arrivals from the six areas to report their health condition daily.

“If people don’t follow the rules or falsely report their condition, like they have a cough but said they do not, then they would be breaching an official order and that will be punishable,” he said, adding that the daily health report could be done by phone, mobile app, or other channels that the ministry will create.

The ministry also said the measures could become stricter depending on the circumstances.

On Tuesday, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul had posted on his Facebook page that all arrivals from Japan, Germany, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, France, Singapore, Italy or Iran “must be quarantined for 14 days” — before deleting the post just a few hours later.

Over the following two days, officials pared down the list of targeted countries to six but continued to send mixed messages about exactly what travellers from those locations could expect when they reached Thailand.

Other ministries have issued different regulations on home quarantine.

The Education Ministry recommended to schools that children who had travelled from France, Germany, Japan, Singapore or Taiwan stay home under quarantine, according to an email sent to parents on Friday from the International School of Bangkok, even though the health ministry did not recommend this.

Meanwhile, the Public Health Ministry said people coming from Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands and the United States are recommended — rather than required — to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

The Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific said in an advisory that travellers from China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Iran and Italy “are allowed to enter” Thailand but have to self-quarantine at their hotel or residence.

The tourism-reliant economy is reeling from the travel curbs sparked by Covid-19, which globally has infected almost 100,000 people and killed over 3,000.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand confirmed Thursday the country could see a loss of six million visitors in 2020.

The country reported one new case of infection on Friday, taking its total to 48. There has been one fatality, while 16 people remain in hospital and the rest have been discharged.

But the number detected has remained surprisingly low, in a country visited by tens of millions of people each year.

Speculation is pointing at a limited testing regime in a country determined not to frighten off visitors.

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