Thailand is pushing ahead with efforts to open up more regions to visitors by the tip of the year in an effort to revive its battered tourism sector.
But there’s scepticism about the move because the Covid-19 vaccination rate nationwide remains dismal.
The authorities are keen on reopening popular tourist spots like Hua Hin, Chiang Mai and Bangkok in October following the limited success of a pilot programme to reopen Phuket in July. The so-called Sandbox scheme generated some 1.6 billion baht (S$65.3 million) on the resort island.
Tourism accounted for a fifth of Thailand’s gross domestic product before the pandemic.
Reopening is “all right in theory”, especially because the dominion, like many other countries, is striving towards living with Covid-19, said Mr Isra Sunthornvut, Thailand country director at consultancy firm Vriens & Partners.
“Whether (the October reopening) is realistic, it represents a shift from the government’s goal of zero Covid-19 cases to living with the virus. They’re also weighing the 2 aspects of health versus economy,” said Mr Isra, a former member of parliament from the Democrat Party.
There are some positive signs on the Covid-19 front in Thailand, with daily infections and deaths declining in recent weeks. Fewer than 15,000 cases are logged daily on most days – down from quite 20,000 in mid-August. the amount of recovering patients has also been on the upswing, analysts told.
“But it’s reasonable to seem towards an October opening albeit there are doubts,” he said, adding that “it’s a matter of damned if you are doing and damned if you don’t”.
October’s reopening plans is partially driven by the approaching peak tourist season, which is that the half-moon of the year, said Maybank Kim Eng analyst Yuwanee Prommaporn.
“We believe there might be some risk of upper infections once the country reopens, but it’s worthwhile to risk that, as long as many livelihoods depend upon it,” said Ms Yuwanee.
Thai authorities have said that from October fully vaccinated foreign travellers are going to be ready to visit Bangkok and 4 other provinces – Chon Buri, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, where Hua Hin is found, and Chiang Mai – without undergoing hotel quarantine. The reopening might be extended to 21 other provinces later.
Under the Phuket Sandbox scheme, fully vaccinated travellers who test negative for Covid-19 upon arrival can freely roam around the island. they are doing not got to serve hotel quarantine.
The authorities have hailed the scheme as a hit after the island welcomed quite 29,000 foreign arrivals. Three more Thai islands have reopened – Samui, Tao and Phangan – under an identical initiative called the Samui Plus plan.
The ambitious plans to reopen is however contingent on the country’s national vaccination drive, which began in June and has been marred by delays in procurement and provision of vaccines, also as public hesitancy towards the Sinovac vaccine.
The national vaccine roll-out has sped up within the last month, finally achieving its target of administering more than 500,000 doses daily, about 200,000 quite within the initial phases.
Analysts note that the supply of vaccinations also because the sorts of vaccines being dispensed have also improved, with the country expecting to receive 140 million doses this year, including the Pfizer vaccine.
“There are going to be more weapons to fight Covid-19 which can boost people’s confidence within the battle against the virus,” said Mr Isra.
The plan is for Thailand to completely vaccinate a minimum of 70 per cent of its 70 million population by December. So far, almost 40 per cent of adults have received one dose and only 18 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Ms Yuwanee has cautioned against expecting any immediate economic recovery with the reopening.
She said estimates put the number of foreign arrivals at only 150,000 for the entire of this year – well below the 40 million who flocked to the dominion annually pre-pandemic.
Foreigners would even be discouraged from visiting Thailand because their home countries would require them to quarantine upon coming back from the dominion if infection numbers remain high, said Ms Yuwanee. Some countries just like us and Britain have already warned against visiting Thailand.