Thailand to Reopen in 120 Days to Ease ‘Suffering of People’
(Bloomberg) -- Thailand plans to fully reopen to foreign visitors in 120 days and give at least one dose of vaccine to the majority of residents by early October to revive the tourism-reliant nation’s economy, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said.
Some tourist destinations should be ready for fully vaccinated visitors without any quarantine requirement sooner than the wider reopening, with Phuket as the “pilot,” Prayuth said in a national address on Wednesday. The country aims to vaccinate 10 million people a month from July and has ordered 105.5 million doses of vaccines for this year, more than the country’s target, he said.
“The time has now come for us to look ahead and set a date for when we can fully open our country and start receiving visitors because re-opening the country is one of the important ways to start reducing the enormous suffering of people who have lost their ability to earn an income,” Prayuth said. “I am, therefore, setting a goal for us to be able to declare Thailand fully open within 120 days from today, and for tourism centers that are ready, to do so even faster.”
Thailand’s urgency to reopen stems from its dependence on tourism sector that, pre-pandemic, contributed about one-fifth of the nation’s economic output. Worldwide travel restrictions decimated jobs and businesses in the past year and Thailand’s gross domestic product has contracted for five straight quarters. Policymakers have warned the trend is likely to continue in the absence of billions of dollars earned from foreign tourists.
“We cannot wait for a time when everyone is fully vaccinated with two shots to open the country or for when the world is free of the virus,” the premier said. “We must be ready to live with some risk and just try to keep it at a manageable level, and let people go back to being able to earn a living.”
An early test of how the reopening will be received by global travelers will come in July when the popular tourist haven of Phuket will allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated visitors. The so-called Phuket Sandbox plan is dependent on the vaccination rate among the island’s residents hitting at least 70%. It currently stands at about 60%, far higher than the 5% nationwide.
“Setting the reopening as a national policy is a good move as tourism operators and businesses may set plans and optimize their preparations,” said Somprawin Manprasert, chief economist at Bangkok-based Bank of Ayudhya Pcl’s research unit. “A concrete plan on how to move forward will be needed too to further boost confidence.”
Other highlights of Prayuth’s address:
- Places of work and business must be able to operate normally and without blanket restrictions
- Domestic travel must be without blanket restrictions
- Only exception to these guidelines will be if a truly serious situation develops or seems likely to develop
- Orders for provincial governors to make preparations for reopening and accelerate vaccinations
- To get to the target of opening the country in 120 days, government will pilot with Phuket to relax some restrictions and receive visitors using a “sandbox” model
- Thais traveling abroad who are fully vaccinated must also be able to return home without quarantine
- By early October, “almost 50 million people” will have first vaccine dose
- Thailand will continue to seek more vaccine supplies for 2022
Prayuth said the decision to set a deadline for reopening is fraught with “some risks,” and “when we open the country, there will be an increase in infections, no matter how good our precautions.” “But, I think, when we take into consideration the economic needs of people, the time has now come for us to take that calculated risk.”
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