The Ministry of Public Health looks set to propose reviving Covid-19 screening measures for international travellers, with extra steps for those from China, as the latter reopens its borders.
The move comes just two days after Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said no special measures are planned for screening visitors from China, where millions of new Covid cases are being seen since the country abruptly scrapped its zero-Covid restrictions.
The measures have drawn criticism from a leading medical expert who warned that they could be seen as discriminating against Chinese travellers.
Many countries have been announcing new or revived screening measures aimed at travellers from China, with most saying the lack of clarity about the extent of Covid infections in China is a major concern.
Health ministry officials worked out their proposal at a meeting on Thursday and plan to discuss it with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Ministry of Transport on Jan 5, said Dr Chakrarat Pittayawonganon, chief of the Division of Epidemiology.
“All international arrivals must have a record of receiving at least two shots of the Covid-19 vaccine, while all international travellers arriving in Thailand from China have to have a health insurance package that fully covers Covid-19 treatment,” Dr Chakrarat said, referring to the proposals.
These travellers also would be required to show negative results of negative antigen test completed 48 hours before arriving in Thailand, he said. They will also be asked for cooperation in wearing face masks, to practise social distancing and wash their hands frequently with hand sanitiser.
The Department of Disease Control (DDC) also plans, in parallel, to conduct sentinel surveillance for Covid-19 infections in which it will randomly screen international visitors arriving at Thailand’s international airports using RT-PCR tests, he said.
“As for the Thais, they will be advised to keep wearing face masks in crowded areas, to get properly vaccinated and to undergo a self-antigen test if or when they develop symptoms suspected to be those of Covid-19,” he said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has projected that 60,000 Chinese travellers will arrive in the country in January, 90,000 in February and 150,000 in March, said Dr Sopon Iamsirithaworn, deputy director-general of the DDC.
These figures would account for about 5% of all international arrivals, he said. Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob expects the number of Chinese arrivals in 2023 to be between 7 million and 10 million after China reopens its borders from Jan 8.
But Prof Dr Prasit Watanapa, dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Mahidol University at Siriraj Hospital, said he disagrees with the plan to implement seemingly “discriminatory” Covid screening measures that single out Chinese travellers.