Govt U-turns on Covid vaccination rule for visitors

Govt U-turns on Covid vaccination rule for visitors

Thai officials warmly applaud and offer garlands to welcome visitors from China at Suvarnabhumi airport in Samut Prakan province on Monday. (Photo: Varuthh Hirunyatheb)
Thai officials warmly applaud and offer garlands to welcome visitors from China at Suvarnabhumi airport in Samut Prakan province on Monday. (Photo: Varuthh Hirunyatheb)

The government on Monday rescinded a policy announced at the weekend requiring visitors to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said, citing sufficient immunisation levels in China and globally.

Video by Varuth Hirunyatheb

The Phuket Tourist Association on Sunday lambasted the suddenly-announced vaccination requirement,  saying foreign tourism operators were enraged about having to issue refunds to customers, many of whom already en route to airports when the new rule was announced without warning. The association added that the abrupt rule change would hurt the country's tourism recovery – and its image.

The country's aviation authority had on Saturday announced the restrictions, effective Monday, ahead of an expected deluge of visitors from China, where Covid-19 cases have surged.

In an abrupt U-turn on Monday, Mr Anutin said requiring visitors to show evidence of two vaccine doses was "inconvenient" and a panel of experts had resolved that it was unnecessary as enough vaccinations had been administered globally.

Mr Anutin said visitors not vaccinated at all would also be granted entry without restriction.

"Showing proof of vaccination would be cumbersome and inconvenient, and so the group's decision is that it is unnecessary," Mr Anutin told reporters.

The first flight of Chinese visitors since the pandemic started arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Monday, carrying an initial group of an expected 3,465 passengers on the first day, Mr Anutin said.

One of Asia's most popular travel destinations, the country is enjoying an influx of tourists during the first peak season since the removal last year of tight entry restrictions.

In November, it recorded 1.75 million visitors, quadruple the number received for the whole of last year when flights and foreign arrivals were limited.

Mr Anutin said the kingdom was now expecting 3.5-10 million Chinese visitors this year, compared with a peak of about 10 million a year before the Covid-19 pandemic.

"This is a good sign for Thailand's tourism sector ... the country's economy will recover rapidly. After we've been devastated by Covid for the last three years," he said.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is expecting arrival numbers for last year to have exceeded 11.5 million, just over a quarter of the record of nearly 40 million in pre-pandemic 2019, who spent about 1.91 trillion baht.

Authorities will still require foreigners whose next destination is a country requiring a negative pre-entry Covid-19 test to show they have health insurance covering treatment for the disease, Mr Anutin said.

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