The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has approved longer visas for foreign visitors to the country from Oct 1 until March 31 as part of efforts to revitalise the economy as the pandemic eases, the agency said on Friday.
Those with regular visas will be able to stay for 45 days, up from 30 at present, while the visa on arrival scheme will be extended from 15 to 30 days, said CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin.
"We are looking to extend their stay as this will help boost tourist spending, revive the economy and reduce the impact of the pandemic," Dr Taweesilp said.
The Tourism and Sports Ministry has projected the number of foreign travellers will hit 10 million this year. From Jan 1 to Aug 16, over 4 million foreign tourists visited Thailand, he said.
Dr Taweesilp said the government will declare Covid-19 endemic in October, and the CCSA will then no longer be the main agency dealing with the disease.
He said that from October the disease will be under the emergency operations centre of the Public Health Ministry as well as national and provincial communicable disease committees.
From November, the national and provincial committees will be the sole agencies dealing with it. Infected people will be isolated as per the guidelines of the Department of Medical Services, he said.
Infected people would be isolated in line with the guidelines of the Department of Medical Services, Dr Taweesilp noted.
The decision to declare the disease endemic was based on the relatively limited number of severe cases and related fatalities.
"The goal is for people to be able to coexist safely with Covid-19 and live normal lives," Dr Taweesilp said.
The present Covid-19 situation is at the green level, with 2,000-3,999 inpatients and 11-39 deaths a day and 201-399 inpatients dependent on ventilators, while clusters of infection are limited, he said.
The numbers are not high but new cases are rising due to the spread of the BA.5 sub-variant of the Omicron strain. "The disease has toned itself down," Dr Taweesilp said.
Surveys in April and May showed that more than 90% of people had antibodies against the virus while other studies have found that three shots of any Covid-19 vaccine reduces the possibility of severe illness and death by over 90%, he added.
The incidence of Covid-19 would be similar to influenza, and there will be new cases all year long, he noted.
He said the CCSA on Friday did not consider whether the state of emergency would be lifted along with the downgrading of Covid-19.
Speaking after chairing the CCSA's meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the agency has not yet considered scrapping the emergency decree imposed to curb the pandemic.
"It [the decree] is still necessary to integrate the operations of various agencies. The decree is not intended for other purposes. It is only meant to ensure the public is safe from Covid-19," Gen Prayut said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai said the CCSA did not discuss lifting it. Asked whether it would be retained until the Apec meeting in Bangkok in November, Mr Don said even if it is, there should be no problem as several foreign agencies have held meetings in Thailand with it in place.
Asked if the decree would affect the country's image ahead of the Apec meeting, he said no protests would create the best climate.