News | Thailand Keeps Quarantine-Free Entry Ban as Omicron Cases Surge

Thailand’s main Covid-19 task force will meet later this week to review the suspension of its quarantine-free entry program for vaccinated visitors amid an uptick in new omicron cases among foreign tourists.

The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, headed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, will meet on Friday to review the visa rules, according to Traisuree Taisaranakul, a government spokeswoman. The nation’s health ministry has already recommended extending the suspension of the so-called Test & Go program for vaccinated travelers from more than 60 countries to Jan. 31.

The initial ban announced on Dec. 21 was for 14 days, or until further announcement, according to a Royal Gazette notification.

With the omicron strain fueling a surge in cases in the U.S. and the European Union, the curbs threaten to derail a recovery in the Thai tourism sector that accounted for a fifth of the nation’s pre-pandemic economy. While more than 350,000 travelers entered the country through the quarantine-waiver program since it was started in November, imported cases accounted for more than 50% of Thailand’s total of 2,062 omicron cases. 

Thailand is aiming to treat Covid-19 as endemic in 2022 by resuming normal activities, increasing immunization through booster shots, and reducing hospitalizations, Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control said on Tuesday in Bangkok.

The Southeast Asian nation’s “living with endemic Covid” strategy marks a shift from its “zero-Covid” approach in 2020, and “learning to live with Covid” blueprint last year, he said.

Foreign travelers can still enter Thailand through its Phuket sandbox program, a different quarantine-free entry process that requires visitors to spend the first week on the island before traveling to other parts of the country. 

Thailand has seen new Covid cases drop to a six-month low following monthslong restrictions on mobility and businesses and a ramp-up in vaccinations. The country reported 3,091 new Covid-19 cases and 12 deaths on Tuesday, taking the cumulative caseload to 2.2 million.

The Southeast Asian nation is currently ramping up the rollout of booster shots among its population. Only about 10% of its 72 million residents have received the third dose, and about 64% have received at least two shots. – Bloomberg

By: Randy Thanthong-Knight

credit photo: TheIndependent

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