CCSA panel to approve visa scheme to allow foreign tourists into country
>>A Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) meeting chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha tomorrow will approve a Special Tourist Visa (STV) to draw foreign tourists, deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul says.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Ministry of Public Health and various other units were fully prepared for the STV, Ms Traisuree said.
Prior to travelling to Thailand, foreign visitors are required to have a Covid19 test taken 72 hours before departure, buy Covid-19 health insurance, and sign a letter of consent agreeing to comply with the government’s Covid19 measures.
Foreign travellers with a STV must still be quarantined for 14 days, she said.
Asked about the tourism and sports minister’s idea to reduce the quarantine period for foreign tourists to seven days, Ms Traisuree said the government had not considered the idea yet, confirming the government would start with a 14-day quarantine before considering easing lockdown measures gradually.
STV travellers must travel by charter plane and every flight carrying them must receive permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or CCSA operation centres, she said.
She said 1,200 STV travellers are expected to enter Thailand each month after the country reopens, bringing in more than 1.03 billion baht. In one year, the number of STV travellers will likely reach 14,400 people, generating tourism revenue of about 12.4 billion baht for the country, she said.
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has ensured the enforcement of stringent aviation measures in airports and on domestic and international flights during Covid-19.
CAAT standard manager Klot Senalak said foreign visitors must present essential documents, such as a letter of confirmation issued by the Thai embassy or consulate at their country of origin, a letter that confirms their test for Covid-19, at least 72 hours prior to travel, is negative, and they must have a US$100,000 (3 million baht) Covid-19 insurance policy.
After their arrival, they must screen for Covid-19 symptoms and download an application to monitor their health. A 14-day quarantine is compulsory for all arrivals, he said.
During flights, passengers must wear face masks at all times. Airlines must provide sufficient alcohol-based hand gel. All cabin crew must wear personal protective equipment and rubber gloves throughout the journey, Mr Klot said.
Newspapers, magazines and leaflets will not be available on the plane. No products will be sold on board, he said.
Flights shorter than 120 minutes are prohibited from serving food and beverages. Longer flights can serve items in closed containers, he said.
With the deadline for the estimated 150,000 stranded foreign tourists in the kingdom to renew their visas having passed yesterday, it remains to be seen how many will continue to stay in the country either legally, having extended their right to stay, or illegally, facing arrest and jail as threatened by the Immigration Bureau. However, what is not in doubt is that Thailand’s ailing tourism industry, until recently estimated to contribute up to 20% of the nation’s GDP, cannot survive on those who were able to overcome a number of much-criticised hurdles (in particular, requiring a letter from their embassy) to extend their stay.
Some foreign business owners have also complained that as the pandemic has forced them to scale down their operations, they too face a problem renewing their visas as they no longer meet requirements pertaining to the employment of a minimum number of Thai nationals.
Thailand’s undoubted success in all but eliminating Covid-19 infections within its borders may ultimately end up being a hindrance as much as a help when it comes to rehabilitating this key sector.
Previously, the Prayut chan-o-cha government mulled long-stay visas under the so-called “Phuket model” special tourist visa (STV) scheme which, if implemented, would limit visitors to certain provinces. While the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) insists there is high interest from overseas tour agents, a number of business operators still lack confidence regarding practicality.
Meanwhile, the government is considering shortening the compulsory two-week state quarantine to seven days for some groups of foreign visitors. More details for this proposal will be available this week.
As long as other stringent measures accompany it, a shorter quarantine period could be a useful option to help this major economic sector out of stagnation.
Many countries that also rely on the income generated by tourists, and which have suffered far higher death tolls, such as France, Spain and Portugal, are already accepting arrivals based on negative test results and a two-week prior history free of exposure to confirmed cases.
Much-trumpeted ‘travel bubbles’ with nations largely free of infection have yet to emerge.
Tomorrow, the European Union is set to announce its latest set of guidelines to reactivate tourism, which will include coronavirus PCR tests both at origin and destination, to allow businesses and citizens to further return to a modicum of normality with regard to foreign travel.
For Thailand, the much-trumpeted “travel bubbles” with nations largely free of infection have yet to emerge and the only options being openly talked about are for medical tourists who may barely spend a baht outside their hospital of choice and long-term visitors whose numbers can be expected to be limited.
The government needs to consult all stakeholders before issuing any guidelines to ensure practicality and acceptance. The constantly changing guidelines and list of destinations that require self-isolation on return have caused confusion among travellers in countries such as the United Kingdom, and this is something our government must strive to avoid.
Indeed, the Immigration Bureau’s hard line with the 150,000 tourist visa holders may also be driven by a desire to crack down on those who were illegally working in the country on tourist visas. It’s well known that the pandemic has effectively brought “visa runs” to an end.
The agency should, however, be cautious when following up on its threats of arrest and jail as there may still be real tourists who have been forced stay longer in the country without proper documentation for technical reasons.
At the same time, immigration chiefs should work closely with business operators to finally put an end to practices that have seen workers on the wrong type of visa put through a torrid few months.
Back to tourism, in order to restart the engine of this major sector while a vaccine is not available, the government must examine all possibilities to keep Thailand safe, through stringent measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, as well effective screening of arrivals.
One option could be to trial short-stay visas with revised rules in order to test the country’s readiness to tackle sporadic outbreaks of Covid-19 as it may not be feasible to halt regular tourism until a vaccine is found.
However, whatever path the government decides upon, the rules must be clear in advance to avoid confusion.