The plan to allow international travellers to take an antigen test (ATK) instead of an RT-PCR test to enter the country might be put on hold over concerns surrounding the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Deputy Public Health Minister, Sathit Pitutecha said on Monday authorities are considering whether to delay the easing of testing requirements for travellers, which the Centre of Covid-19 Situation Administration had just announced on Friday.
The relaxed requirements, which were supposed to kick in on Dec 16, would have applied to travellers from 63 countries and territories who are allowed to enter under the test-and-go scheme.
Mr Sathit said the CCSA made the decision to facilitate the entry of foreign tourists, as antigen tests only take a couple of hours. At present, travellers must take an RT-PCR test upon arriving in Thailand, and they must quarantine at a hotel for a night until the result comes back negative.
"RT-PCR tests are more accurate than ATK tests, which is important to help prevent an Omicron outbreak in Thailand," he said.
Citing information from the Department of Medical Sciences (DMS), Mr Sathit said the new variant has yet to be detected in Thailand.
That said, Mr Sathit said he instructed the Department of Medical Sciences (DMS) to come up with an effective method to detect the Omicron variant.
DMS director-general, Supakit Sirilak, said on Monday the RT-PCR method is still effective for detecting the Omicron strain.
Out of the 104 commercially available RT-PCR diagnostic kits examined by the Food and Drug Administration, only two were found to be ineffective in detecting the Omicron variant.
Apisamai Srirangson, assistant spokeswoman of the CCSA, also said the decision to replace RT-PCR tests with antigen tests might change, now the Covid-19 situation has taken a different turn.
From Dec 1, foreign travellers from eight countries in southern Africa, namely Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be barred from entering to keep the variant out of Thailand, she said.
Tourists from these countries haven't been allowed to register for entry into Thailand since Saturday, she added.
"Those who have already registered will have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival and undergo three RT-PCR tests," Dr Apisamai said.
Thais arriving from the aforementioned countries will still be allowed to enter, although they will have to quarantine for 14 days as a precaution, she added.
The Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has also been found in Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Denmark.
Between Nov 1-27, there were 1,007 visitors from South Africa, all of whom tested negative for Covid-19, she said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow said the Omicron strain will not spoil the country's reopening since most African nations were not on the list of countries and territories from which travellers can enter without 14-day quarantine.