Thailand backs vaccine passport ahead of wider reopening; confirms 71 new Covid-19 cases on Monday (March 8)

Thailand's Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. - The Nation Thailand/ANN

BANGKOK, March 8 (The Nation Thailand/ANN): Thailand moved a step closer to issuing vaccine certificates, with a panel of officials backing the proposal seen as a major milestone toward allowing the tourism-reliant nation to fully reopen to foreign visitors.

The Health Ministry will issue documents to residents who have completed their Covid-19 vaccinations that will allow them to travel abroad, according to Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

Thailand also plans to reduce the mandatory quarantine period for vaccinated foreign visitors to seven days from 14 days currently, he said, adding the proposals are expected to be approved by a national committee later this month.

The vaccine passport plan is the strongest signal yet from Thai authorities of their intent to reopen the borders more widely to tourists. The so-called vaccine passport holders may get a complete waiver from quarantine on arrival from October, according to Anutin. A successful reopening by Thailand could spur other tourism-reliant nations to follow suit, as countries like the U.K. set out ambitious timelines for easing restrictions.

Thailand on Monday confirmed 71 new Covid-19 cases, mostly domestic, according to the Centre for the Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan.

Of Monday's new cases, 48 were domestic infections while 23 others referred to imported cases, the CCSA spokeswoman said.

Those domestic cases included 40 detected in Samut Sakhon and one in Bangkok, among other provinces, she said.

Thailand has so far confirmed 26,441 cases, 23,580 of which were domestic cases while 2,861 others referred to imported cases.

So far, 25,777 patients have fully recovered and been released from hospitals while 579 others are currently hospitalised and 85 fatalities have been reported.

Thailand is betting on a revival in tourism, which accounted for about a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product pre-pandemic, to return Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to growth. The local tourism industry has called for mandatory quarantines to be lifted from as early as July 1 so it can open to potentially millions of vaccinated visitors.

"The quarantine waiver remains the best way to support the travel industry” given the local industry’s dependence on foreign tourists, Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, president of the Thai Airlines Association told reporters. Mandatory quarantine of any duration may still remain a sticking point for most holidaymakers though it may be used by business travelers and long-stay tourists, he said.

Travel Bubble

Thailand will be able to adjust its quarantine rules for inoculated travelers once there’s a global standard for vaccine passports, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said Monday. China and Thailand may agree on a bilateral electronic vaccine passport deal to create a travel bubble to boost the economy and tourism industry, Anutin said.

The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, chaired by Prayuth, will consider easing more restrictions ahead of the Thai New Year holiday in April, a peak travel period, according to Apisamai Srirangsan, the center’s spokeswoman.

More than 25,000 people in Thailand have received their first shots in the first week of a national rollout, including in regions that are popular with foreign tourists. The government may also lift a nationwide state of emergency imposed a year ago to contain the pandemic by the end of May, Apisamai said.

Highlights of the proposed quarantine rules from April are:

Shorter quarantine period of seven days proposed for foreign nationals with vaccine certificates issued 14 days prior to travel and not earlier than three months and negative Covid-19 test results.Seven-day quarantine also mooted for returning Thai citizens with vaccine certificates issued at least 14 days prior to travel and not earlier than 1 month. Travelers also need negative Covid-19 test results10-day quarantine planned for those without vaccine certificates but have a negative test result.Those arriving from Africa will still be subject to 14-day quarantine.
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