10/20/2021, 15.57
THAILAND
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Prayut wants to reopen to tourism but health authorities have doubts

by Steve Suwannarat

The Thai government wants to remove all limits on foreign and domestic travellers on 1 November. However, Thailand’s immunisation campaign is far from fully vaccinating 70 per cent of the population, indicated as a requirement by the scientific community. Only a few thousand tourists have travelled to “secure areas” in Phuket, bringing little relief to the local economy.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The prospect of Thailand's imminent reopening to foreign tourism and unrestricted domestic travel, with the full resumption of economic activities, is raising serious doubts among many in the country.

The government led by former General Prayut Chan-ocha is aiming at1 November as the day set for reopening.

This is coming none too soon since the health emergency has caused widespread unemployment and impoverishment, with the collapse of entire economic sectors, especially tourism, entertainment and culture, but with serious consequences for manufacturing as well.

However, government support has been inadequate compared to the needs while its response to the pandemic was often contradictory and confusing.

The country is still reporting about 10,000 new SARS-CoV-2 cases a day while only just over 50 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of and COVID-19 vaccine.

The greatest doubts about reopening come from scientific circles and the opposition, who deem it too early.

Many complain that the authorities have so far failed to deal with the situation and that the interests of the country’s elites and military seem to be shaping the government’s response.

Chalermchai Boonyaleephan, vice chairman of the Public Health Commission, spoke of the situation.

In a post he noted that whilst every country seeks a balance between economy and public health, one of its criteria is that at least 70 percent of the population is vaccinated.

“To reach that point, we need to speed up the vaccine rollout to ensure 70 per cent of the population is double jabbed by November 30,” he said.

“After that, it will take another 14 days before immunity kicks in, so Thailand should be ready to reopen on December 15.”

However, the government's approach is based on public opinion and the need for stability rather than scientific data.

In places like the islands of Phuket, Samui, and Koh Tao, attempts have already been made to encourage foreign visitors to come back by instituting “secure areas” as part of a sandbox programme.

Despite good intentions, such a strategy still risks missing its goals and could spark a new wave of infections. In fact, mass tourism is still a long way off. So far only a few thousand foreigners have travelled to such resorts, bringing little relief to local economies.

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