The length of quarantine time could be halved for visitors from countries with an extremely low Covid-19 infection rate, according to the Public Health Ministry.
"Seven-day quarantine is possible in the case of areas with very low infections. But it doesn't mean that we will no longer have additional controls. If we do it, we have must redesign the quarantine system, together with measures to monitor those people to make sure the country is safe from the outbreak," Tanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of the Department of Disease Control under the ministry, told the media yesterday.
Countries with extremely low infection rates are those with the number of infections at 0.2 per 100,000 visitors, he said. The government is reportedly considering reducing the mandatory 14-day quarantine time for some visitors entering the country.
The department has assessed the infection rate of visitors based on their home countries and found the risk of infection posed by these visitor also differs greatly -- 5 per 10,000 visitors from China and 8 per 100 visitors from Saudi Arabia. The department also found that 99% of infectious patients would show symptoms within 12 days, 97.5% within 11.1 days, 95% within 10.3 days, 75% within 7.15 days and 50% within 6.4 days.
He added that medical personal and various stakeholders are working together to make sure those from lower risk areas will not cause any outbreaks in the country under the main four key points of prevention, search, disease control and medical treatment. "We are at the point of striking a balance between health safety and economic growth," he said.
In a related development, tourists from China were expected to be the first to visit the country early this month, but the government postponed the schedule.
Thapanee Kiatphaibool, deputy governor for Tourism Products and Business, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said the postponement was in response to the Phuket provincial administration's request to have the Chinese tourists visit after the end of the Vegetarian Festival in the middle of this month. "People in Phuket will welcome the Chinese tourists after the festival. The public health system is also ready to function at that time because all stakeholders are working hard to get things ready," she told the press conference.
Phuket governor Narong Wunsiew said provincial authorities cannot open up the province to foreign visitors unilaterally and tourist arrivals must be approved by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.
"At this stage there are no foreign tourists in the province because Thailand has yet to reopen. As for visitors under the Special Tourist Visa (STV) scheme, provincial authorities have not been informed of any arrivals by the Interior Ministry," he said.
According to Mr Narong, Thais are expected to travel to the province during the vegetarian festival and generate at least 200 million baht for the local economy.
He said some fear that if foreign visitors are allowed in before the festival, local tourists may stay away, so the Tourism Authority of Thailand had been asked to delay bringing in foreign visitors.
Phuket had been preparing to receive its first group of tourists from China this week under the STV scheme aimed at supporting Thailand's economic recovery. A group of 120 Chinese tourists and businessmen had been scheduled to arrive yesterday, but their trip was delayed.
Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said yesterday that no bookings have been made with Bangkok Hospital Phuket which is a partner in the Alternative Local Quarantine programme in the province.
In another development, Anutin Charnvirakul, the public health minister, said Thailand will be among first nations to get a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University by the end of this year or early next year.