In June, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O’Cha had previously declared his statement to reopen the country within the next 120 days. That date is expected to be due within mid-October, however, it is likely to be postponed for at least another two weeks, following the suggestions of a sub-panel meeting of the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
The plan to reopen has also moved from a “reopening” of the country to only five areas (Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Hua Hin, Cha-am), as well as previously “opened” Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Phuket. This is because of the factors (see below) the CCSA is using to evaluate what parts of the country are ready for foreign tourists.
The reopening plan in pilot areas may not be as easy as it sounds as it depends on many factors as well as the health and safety of Thai people, according to the CCSA.
Prior to the Bangkok reopening, the Ministry of Public Health and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration had agreed to consider three main factors to reopen provinces and eventually the whole country to foreign vaccinated tourists. The “Phuket Sandbox” was primarily to see if the country was ready for foreign vaccinated visitors and to determine how many tested positive for Covid-19, which ended up being about 0.28 percent, an incredibly low number. Despite this, the country still wants to meet several qualifying factors to open further.
The factors are as follows:
- Has the full vaccination rate covered 70 percent of people in the area already?Two doses of vaccination for 70 percent of the population mean that, according to the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), a starting level of herd immunity is activated to ensure safety and reduce the risk of the Covid-19 outbreak. As a note, the MOPH is now aiming for 80% in Covid-free zones, like Pattaya, to be able to truly open all business sectors and return to as close to normalcy as possible. This is especially true for the elderly and vulnerable populations. The pilot locations proposed to open have not yet reached these levels and is a primary reason the CCSA is likely to officially delay the opening plan to November at their “all hands on deck” meeting Monday, September 27th, 2021.
- Is the trend of daily Covid-19 infections significantly decreasing?
The number of new infections has continued to decline nationwide since August 13th. However, the overall number is still reaching 10,000 per day and most of them are domestic infections.In Bangkok and Chonburi, there has been a tendency for daily infections to decrease from the beginning of September but the number of infected people remained high as Bangkok still hits 2,000 people on average daily while Chonburi has reported on average more than 700 daily cases. The majority of these in Chonburi are in factories, industrial estates, and recently new soldier barracks of the military. However, MOPH officials are still concerned with the cases overall.
For the second group of pilot areas in Phetchaburi (Cha-Am), Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin), and Chiang Mai, despite the fact that the number of confirmed cases has been fairly low compared to Bangkok and Chonburi, the MOPH feels the situation is still unpredictable and wants to ramp up further vaccination.
- Does the public health system sufficiently and effectively support the transfer and treatment of Covid-19 patients?
For the Phuket Sandbox, Phuket provincial authorities have prepared proper medical treatment, hospital beds, high-performance ICU rooms, and cohort wards, as well as established field hospitals within 48 hours to accommodate injections among tourists traveling under the project. The trend and the occupancy rate of hospital beds in Bangkok and its vicinity have improved significantly, according to Kiattipoom Wongrachit, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health. Thailand also has the potential to adequately accommodate patients as the number of critical patients is still at a stable rate. Chonburi in particular has extensive hospital beds available and is seeing many transfers from provinces with fewer hospitals on a daily basis.
One of the major concerns that could affect tourists’ decision on travel to Thailand is the implementation of the Emergency Decree that has been extended 13 times over the past 17 months. With the Emergency Decree also comes a requirement of a certificate of entry, or COE, to enter the country which has to be given by an embassy or consulate, adding significant paperwork to potential visitors.
Although the cabinet committee has approved a modified draft of the Disease Control Act to enhance management efficiency against emergency situations and essentially allow the government to replace Emergency Decree laws, it does not mean that the Emergency Decree would be revoked. Moreover, the sub-panel meeting of the CCSA would propose another extension of the Decree until November at the CCSA general meeting.
All in all, the conclusions and considerations of all matters above would be finalized at the big CCSA meeting, chaired by Prime Minister, next Monday, September 27th.
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