Thailand will allow fully vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries to enter the kingdom without quarantine from Nov 1 as a key effort by the government to boost the economy.
In a televised broadcast on Monday night, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he has instructed the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Public Health Ministry to consider reopening the country to fully vaccinated tourists without quarantine on Nov 1.
However, pre-conditions are that international visitors will need to show that they are Covid-free at their time of travel with an RT-PCR test undertaken before they leave their home country, and then have a test in Thailand.
He said these travellers would be allowed to visit any part of the country after meeting these requirements, adding that there will be at least ten "low risk" countries, including Singapore, Germany, China and the US.
He said more countries will be added to the "low risk" list on Dec 1, stressing that tourists from countries not on the list will be required to undergo quarantine.
Gen Prayut said the government also expects to consider lifting the ban on serving of alcoholic beverages in restaurants.
"By December 1, we will also consider allowing the consumption of alcoholic beverages in restaurants as well as the operation of entertainment venues," said Gen Prayut.
He said in the last one-and-half years, people have lived with some of the greatest peacetime challenges the country has faced in its history.
"It has been one of the most painful experiences in my life, too, to make decisions that balance the saving of lives with the saving of livelihoods -- a choice that is not always clearly separate, and where we may save lives, but commit those lives to the unbearable pain of trying to survive with little or no income; or where we may save livelihoods but commit one's family, friends and neighbours to loss of life and the loss of their breadwinner," he said.
"The time has come for us to ready ourselves to face the coronavirus and live with it as with other endemic infections and diseases, much as we have learnt to live with other diseases with treatments and vaccinations," he said.
"Today, I would like to announce the first small but important step in decisively beginning the process of trying to restore our livelihoods."
"I know this decision comes with some risk. It is almost certain that we will see a temporary rise in serious cases as we relax these restrictions.
"We will have to track the situation very carefully, and see how to contain and live with that situation because I do not think that the many millions who depend on the income generated by the travel, leisure and entertainment sector can possibly afford the devastating blow of a second lost New Year holiday period," he added.
Gen Prayut said he has recognised the extraordinary achievements of public health workers, other officials and all citizens for their response to his appeal in June to ready the country for quarantine-free arrivals within 120 days.
"After we adopted the 120-day goal, extraordinary efforts were made to increase our supply of vaccines," he said, adding that deliveries jumped threefold, from around 4 million doses in May to almost 12 million arriving in July, then almost 14 million arriving in August, and now running at over 20 million a month until the end of the year, totaling over 170 million doses, far ahead of the goals he had set.
Public health staff worked tirelessly to accelerate vaccinations to support the 120-day goal, and the public gave great cooperation in registering for vaccinations. As a result, the country's daily vaccination number shot up threefold in July, from around 80,000 doses a day in May, and kept increasing until Thailand rose to be among the 10 fastest countries in the world for administering shots.
"We currently frequently administer more than 700,000 shots a day, and sometimes even exceed one million shots a day."
The premier said the fact that Thailand can begin quarantine-free entry in November -- despite many other countries still trying to contain the Delta variant with restrictions on the travel of their citizens -- is a great tribute to the unity of purpose and determined response to his appeal by the public health services, by many other government departments, by the private sector, and by the cooperation given by citizens in all matters.
"Our nation has performed an extraordinary feat in the last months and we can all be very proud about everyone's enormous contributions to those achievements.
"These achievements, coupled with the gradual relaxation of other countries' travel restrictions, now enable us to begin the process of quarantine-free entry into Thailand," Gen Prayut said.