Govt extends state of emergency for 8th time

Govt extends state of emergency for 8th time

The government will extend the nationwide state of emergency until Jan 15 to prevent a resurgence in coronavirus infections during the peak New Year travel period, an official said.

A meeting of the Covid-19 task force chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha approved the extension to help authorities enforce mandatory quarantines and streamline disease-control plans, Taweesilp Witsanuyotin, a spokesman for the panel, said yesterday.

The extension, which is expected to be approved by the cabinet next week, would be the eighth since the initial order in March. Authorities have gradually been relaxing some virus measures over the past several months to allow businesses to fully reopen and some visitors to return. While Thailand has been largely free of community transmission of the virus, the economy has been battered by the pandemic's effects on the the export and tourism sectors, its two key growth drivers.

The panel discussed relaxing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from selected low-risk countries but a decision was deferred following concerns raised by some officials, Dr Taweesilp said. The proposal included allowing visitors to leave the quarantine centres after 10 days and travel to some restricted areas, he said.

The country remains closed to most tourists though it has unveiled a long-stay visa programme to revive tourism, which generated about US$60 billion (1.82 trillion baht) in revenue in 2019. The Covid-19 panel approved the use of golf resorts as quarantine centres, Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said.

Chulalongkorn University will begin human trials of its Covid-19 vaccine from next year, Dr Taweesilp said. The cabinet on Tuesday approved a budget of 6.05 billion baht to secure 26 million doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc once they become available.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted the proposed reduction of the mandatory quarantine period from the current 14 days to 10 days was being vetted. The proposal, which has been opposed by some public health experts as creating potential oversight problems and possibly triggering a second wave of transmission, needs time to study, Gen Prayut said.

He said the government is seriously considering public health safety. At the same time, the tourism sector requires urgent promotion to shore up the huge loss to the country's revenue due to the border closure forced by the pandemic.

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