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Change of mood over Covid restrictions as demands rise to reboot Test & Go

Tim Newton

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There’s a change of mood in some government circles as plans are afoot to ease some current restrictions imposed since the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. The CCSA will meet again next Friday to consider the current restrictions and curbs to control the spread of Covid-19.

Now, the Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul is publicly noting the low numbers of hospital admissions and people in ICU, despite a surge in Omicron cases since Christmas and New Year activities.

He told Bangkok Post that the number of people with severe symptoms on ventilators or in intensive care units is still low.

“The daily fatalities have not exceeded 20 for a while.”

Currently much of Thailand is an Orange Zone, banning some activities in 69 of Thailand’s 77 provinces. There is also a general ban on alcohol being served at restaurants, whilst in 7 Blue Zones (which includes provinces and some Districts within Orange Zone provinces), alcohol can be served at restaurants but only until 9pm at the moment.

All that aside, rules about the serving of alcohol have been openly flouted in tourist hot spots like Patong and Pattaya, and the recent monthly Full Moon party on Koh Pha Ngan.

Whilst health authorities are softening their tone about restrictions, some ministers appear to have simply lost the appetite for dragging out the list of restrictions much longer – there is an election sometime next year.

For the tourist industry, the re-introduction of the Test & Go program in the Thailand Pass is seen as a critical next step. The Test & Go program was suspended from December 22, 2021, leaving only Sandbox or Alternative Quarantine options for re-entering Thailand.

For now there are 4 Sandbox options available in the Thailand Pass, where fully vaccinated travellers to enter Thailand and stay for 7 days in one region, free to roam around, until they produce a negative PCR test on the seventh day and can then travel freely around Thailand.

Travellers can also enter Thailand through non-Sandbox ports and participate in Alternative Quarantine at a registered AQ hotel. The beneficiary of the latest entry restrictions is the island of Phuket (which is also the entry point for the Krabi and Phang Nga Sandboxes) as other tourist destinations watch their Christmas and New Year crowds vanish.

Industry heavy-weight and frequent writer to the Thai PM, Bill Heinecke of the Minor Group – one of Thailand’s largest hotel, food and lifestyle companies – has penned his latest open missive to PM Prayut.

Minor International is based in Bangkok and operates 530 properties, including the Anantara, Four Seasons, and Radisson Blu brands.

Whilst dispensing Covid health advice to Thailand’s PM, Mr. Heinecke also urged a re-introduction of the Test & Go program.

Mr. Heinecke says he wants to see the Thai government welcome tourists in the same manner as other countries. With the Omicron variant, measures such as mandatory health insurance and advance hotel bookings are not necessary, he says. Foreign tourists should only have to provide proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test in order to enter Thailand.

“Because of the milder symptomatic disease associated with Omicron, the government should resume its Test & Go scheme or open more “sandbox” areas soon.”

Back in March, 2020, Mr. Heinecke was writing to the PM with different suggestions, calling for a “full lockdown”….

“I believe that under your strong leadership, the message to stay home, limit personal movement and avoid interaction with others will be taken to heart and will help us overcome this crisis.”

But that was then, nearly 2 years later Mr. Heinecke’s clearly keen to see his hotel group, and the rest of Thai tourism, back in full swing. Here’s the full text of his latest missive to the PM…

Change of mood over Covid restrictions as demands rise to reboot Test & Go | News by Thaiger

This week the PM Prayut Chan-o-cha was urging all government agencies to get behind the latest “Amazing Thailand New Chapter” tourism campaign being readied for launch by the end of January. The administration is pushing forward with tourism plans that the tourism economy so desperately needs.

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has created the new slogan and travel campaign to promote various tourist activities in Thailand. Despite the current entry restrictions, and general malaise of world travel, the Ministry are predicting between 5 million and 15 million people travelling to Thailand in 2022… the projection based on no new lockdowns or border closures being enacted.

Last Tuesday, the World Health Organisation chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned the new Covid-19 variant is a “dangerous” virus.

“While Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains a dangerous virus, particularly for those who are unvaccinated.”

But back in Thailand, Dr. Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Thai Department of Disease Control, says the Public Health Ministry says Covid-19 pandemic could be downgraded to endemic status and given necessary steps to achieve the aim.

“…it should become endemic within this year, not today or tomorrow.”

Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for public health, noted that the current situation had stabilised “but we still need to maintain strict precautions”.

“…caseloads have currently stabilised and are in a declining trend. Severe case numbers continue to go down.”

He also said that vaccinations are crucial to protecting the public against the worst effects of the virus, and those who are not vaccinated have been urged to get their shots quickly.

Today there were 7,793 new Covid infections reported over the past 24 hours in Thailand, including 270 cases from travellers who arrived from overseas. Another 18 Covid-related deaths were also reported. 77,368 patients remain in state care, with 5,202 discharged. 527 patients remain in a serious condition with 105 people on ventilators.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post | MINT | WHO

 

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    Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for 41 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program (public radio Australia), presented over 11,000 radio news bulletins, 3,900 in Thailand alone, hosted 1050 daily TV news programs and produced 2,100 videos, TV commercials and documentaries. He also reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and other major stories in Thailand. As founder of The Thaiger in 2016, Tim is the current CEO for the company, based in their Bangkok HQ.

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