With Russell Crowe on board, Thailand is preparing to reopen, but is it too early?
The reopening is initially limited to 15 provinces and only includes arrivals from low-risk countries – the UK, United States, Germany, China and Singapore have been named so far – but the survey highlighted concerns about rising infections and tourists for the virus or a new variant and that the country will be forced back into lockdown.
Public health experts have also asked if authorities are ready to meet testing requirements for a mass reopening.
Thailand’s vaccination numbers are not ideal for a reopening, said Dr. Abhishek Rimal, Asia Pacific Emergency Coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“When you see the recommendations from WHO and others, they say, if we look at herd immunity, the country needs to be at least 60 percent fully vaccinated for us to be in a much safer environment,” he said.
“Several countries like Thailand are trying to see how they really can [reopen] sooner rather than later … what they are now is not the optimal level recommended for easing restrictions. “
However, he said he has confidence in Thailand’s “very strong health system” and the plans that are being implemented to keep the virus in check and respond to any surge.
“I understand that they are also planning very strong or specific public health measures to keep community transmission controlled,” he said.
Tourism-dependent Thailand has no choice, according to its government.
The country had 40 million visitors in the last full year of 2019, and before the pandemic, tourism accounted for 12 percent of its GDP.
The number of overseas arrivals fell to 6.7 million in 2020, most of them before the virus outbreak, dealing a devastating blow to the economy and the millions who worked in the tourism sector.
As the economist Chartchai Parasuk has pointed out, the risk of rapid escalation in cases could come not from international tourists importing the virus, but from local staff who look after them. But he argues that it is necessary for economic survival.
That said the tourism and sports minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.
“There is a competition to attract tourists. So if we still put a COVID-19 quarantine on them, for example for seven days, we will not be able to compete with other countries, ”he said following Prayuth’s announcement.
It’s a different tone than Indonesia in Bali, where fully vaccinated foreign tourists from 19 countries are now allowed to re-enter, but only after spending five days in a hotel.
“I want to remind us all that we don’t race [over] whoever gets more tourists, we are not competing with other countries to relax politics, ”said the Indonesian Minister for Tourism and Creative Industries Sandiaga Uno on Monday.
“Our priority is that the safety and health of Indonesians must come first.
“We want to remind everyone that we are still in the middle of the pandemic.”
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