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Pattaya all but deserted due to virus, travel restrictions

Jack Burton

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Pattaya all but deserted due to virus, travel restrictions | The Thaiger
PHOTO: A vendo stands on a deserted Pattaya beach - Jakarta Post
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For years, Pattaya has struggled to shed its seedy image as a haven of sex tourism, which started in the 1970s when it became a rest and relaxation spot for US soldiers during the Vietnam War. It’s continued to develop into a much more diverse city with world standard attractions offsetting the seedier bars and walking streets.

Now it faces a much bigger threat.

Pattaya’s beaches are deserted, go-go bars sit empty and cabarets have shut their doors as business has ground to a standstill after worldwide travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

As one of the world’s most famous, perhaps infamous, tourist hotspots, the economic devastation is almost total. Business owners say haven’t seen anything like it for four decades. One cabaret owner said…

“Our organisation has halted business 100%. Pattaya is a tourist city, we rely mostly on them. The whole city is affected by the virus.”

In normal times, his theatre, featuring high-kicking dancing girls with elaborate feather headdresses and sequined dresses, sees more than a thousand tourists daily. Now there are literaly none. While the cabaret isn’t planning on laying off its staff for now, the future seems grim. Thailand overall depends on tourism for around 12% of its GDP (some reports claim up to 17%), but in Pattaya, nearly the entire economy runs on visitors, either semi-permanent or on holiday.

Pattaya saw over 15 million visitors in 2018, according to a 2019 government report, already a 20% drop from the previous year.

“I would say that this is the worst that has ever hit Pattaya. And during the past two to three weeks, so many businesses have already folded, have already gone bankrupt, closed down due to the coronavirus.”

SOURCE: Reuters

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

How has Thailand avoided the worst of Covid-19? – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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How has Thailand avoided the worst of Covid-19? – VIDEO | The Thaiger

We examine some of the reasons Thailand has been able to avoid the surges and 2nd waves of Covid-19. Whilst many countries are now suffering a 2nd and 3rd wave of the coronavirus, Thailand has locked itself in a bubble of its own making. Almost zero cases and any new cases coming from repatriates. Now the country has to figure out how to re-open its economy and borders, safely.

Why has Thailand, with a population greater than that of the UK, been largely spared the catastrophic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the nation and much of the world?

Social distancing is embedded in Thai culture – Thais rarely touch when greeting, preferring the prayer-like “wai” gesture to a handshake or embrace. Could this custom be at least partly responsible for the country’s low numbers?

There have been no overwhelmed hospitals in the country’s public hospital system. No dead bodies in the streets. No social media postings from frantic doctors or nurses. The country simply acted swiftly, and with a determined force.

Thailand was quick to adopt the use of facemasks, close schools and enforce social distancing on public transport, even before declaring a national state of emergency and curfew, sealing its borders and forbidding interprovincial travel. Is that what prevented the runaway transmission of the virus here? Is there a genetic component that makes the immune systems of Thais (and others in the Mekong River region) more resistant to the virus? Or is it some combination of all these factors that have insulated this country of 69 million?

One thing’s for sure, despite an influx of foreign visitors early in the year from countries badly hit by the virus, especially China, Thailand has recorded just 3,236 cases since January, 58 deaths and achieved a 95.5% recovery rate. As of today, there have been no cases of local transmission for about 7 weeks (although there’s been a steady flow of daily single-figure infections as Thais repatriate from overseas)

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Tourism

Phuket prepares to welcome first Chinese tourists in over 6 months

Maya Taylor

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Phuket prepares to welcome first Chinese tourists in over 6 months | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Jing Daily

The first group of tourists to arrive under Thailand’s new Special Tourist Visa scheme are expected to land in Phuket on October 8. The Bangkok Post reports that a flight from Guangzhou in southern China will carry 120 tourists, who will spend their first 14 days in alternative state quarantine. They are reported to be travelling under the government’s new STV.

Arrivals who do not pass the initial health screening will be transferred to specially chosen hospitals, as “Patients under Investigation”. Those who do pass the screening will be transported to alternative state quarantine once they’ve gone through immigration processing.

A Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration spokesperson says the resort islands of Phuket and Koh Samui will be the first to welcome travellers under the Special Tourist Via scheme. He pointed out that Guangzhou has not recorded any new cases of the Covid-19 virus for a prolonged period, meaning next week’s tourist arrivals are deemed “low risk”. His assertion is confirmed from the official figures at worldometer.info website recording world Covid-19 cases.

The CCSA reports that there will be a limit of 300 foreign tourists admitted each week, but this will be reviewed after the first phase of the re-opening. All arrivals will be subject to 14 day quarantine, although the Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has suggested reducing this to 7 days eventually. The CCSA says they are not considering reducing the quarantine time at this stage.

Thiravat Hemachudha from the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Disease Health Science Centre is not opposed to the idea.

“We can study this with foreign visitors who will arrive next month. During the 14 day quarantine they will be tested on the first, the seventh and the fourteenth day. If they are free of infections, we can shorten the quarantine to 7 days.”

However, not all are in agreement, with a doctor from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University cautioning against any shortening of the quarantine period.

Meanwhile, Phuket governor, Narong Woonsiew, says the province is ready to welcome the new arrivals, with Covid-19 labs in place at Phuket airport, and officials due to carry out a full dress rehearsal today.

Thanit Sermkaew, chief of the Phuket Public Health Office, says over 1,200 rooms at 9 hotels have been chosen as alternative state quarantine properties, with a total of 73 hotels, providing over 5,800 rooms, applying for consideration.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Visa amnesty runs to October 31 | Complete Thailand Travel Guide (September 2020)

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Visa amnesty runs to October 31 | Complete Thailand Travel Guide (September 2020) | The Thaiger

Latest update – September 29. The Thaiger updates information about travelling to and re-entering Thailand. Depending on where you’re coming from, your purpose for visiting Thailand and your country’s own Covid-19 travel restrictions, the situation is changing daily. If you are overseas and wish to come to Thailand your FIRST port of call must be the Royal Thai Embassy in your country before you make any bookings.

A new visa amnesty now runs until the end of October

A new visa amnesty was announced by the Thai PM and the CCSA yesterday afternoon. Foreigners who recently paid 1,900 baht for a 30 day visa extension (before September 26) are now clear to stay in Thailand until November 30 at no extra cost, but those foreigners need to report to immigration to get their visa stamp corrected.

At this stage, although announced and approved by the CCSA and the Thai PM, the new amnesty has not been entered into the Royal Gazette but is expected to be in the next 24 hours.

The announcement follows a decision confirmed late yesterday by the CCSA to issue another grace period for foreigners stranded in Thailand, until October 31. Under the new regulation, 60 day visa extensions will be issued to those who are unable to travel back to their home country. The reasons could be lack of flights, problems with Covid in their home country, medical reasons or something else that prevent you from leaving the country.

Those who received a 30 day extension will need to visit their local immigration office and get the correct stamp that will indicate the new expiration date in their passport, according to a story in The Phuket News. In the past, foreigners have needed to present a letter from their country’s embassy requesting an extension, but Immigration Bureau Deputy Commissioner Pornchai Kuntee says “letters from embassies may not be needed.”

Tell us about the new long stay ‘special tourist visa’, the STV.

Here are the strict basic requirements of the new STV…

• Foreign visitors will be required to have a Covid-19 test taken 72 hours before, departure

• They will have to buy Covid-19 health insurance

• Sign a letter of consent agreeing to comply with the Thai government’s Covid-19 measures

• Will be for a minimum 90 days (there have been some reports of a minimum 30 days), renewable twice, to a total of 20 days

• The visa will be limited to people from ‘low-risk’ countries although that list has not been announced

• Successful applicants will have to complete a 14 day mandatory quarantine at a state-registered quarantine/hotel

• STV travellers must travel by charter plane and every flight carrying them must receive permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or CCSA

The new 90 day special tourist visa would be able to be extended twice, for 90 days each time. So, a total of 270 days (around 9 months). It was also announced that travellers would have to arrive on charter flights only, further pushing up the price of potential travel back to Thailand.

“Visitors can arrive for tourism or health services, and they can stay at alternative state quarantine facilities, specific areas or at hospitals that function as quarantine facilities. Our public health system is amongst the best in the world and people can have confidence in it.”

The new ‘STV’ (Special Tourist Visa) which will cost 2,000 baht and will last for 90 days each. The new visa regulation will be in effect until September 30, 2021 and may be extended beyond that time.

The government noted that it doesn’t have the ability to fully re-open to tourism at the moment as they have to be able to process incoming visitors and find approved locations for them to serve their 14 day quarantine.”The target is to welcome 100-300 visitors a week, or up to 1,200 people a month, and generate income of about 1 billion baht a month.”

Thai officials have also said they will only accept tourists from “low risk” countries, without specifying what those countries are.

On Friday, September 18, a director at the Department of Disease Control, said that foreign tourists will have to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours prior to travel.

The Thaiger will update the details of the new long stay tourist visa as soon as the become available.

The Special Tourist Visa will be formerly approved Monday. Read more HERE.

How is Thailand doing compared to the rest of the world with it’s re-opening to tourists?

The UN World Tourism Organisation has published its latest update on the state of the world’s re-openings in the Covid-era. 53% of the world’s tourist destinations have now started easing travel restrictions government’s imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The UNWTO reports acknowledges that many destinations “remain cautious” and some are even re-closing borders and tightening up restrictions again.

It’s the 7th edition of the “Covid-19 Related Travel Restrictions: A Global Review for Tourism”and identifies an ongoing global trend to gradually restart the world’s tourism machine. The report analyses restrictions by governments up to September 1. The research covers a total of 115 destinations (53% of all destinations worldwide) have now eased their travel restrictions – that’s an increase of 28 since 19 July. Of these, two have lifted all restrictions, while the remaining 113 continue to have certain restrictive measures in place.

• Another stand-out stat was that in advanced economies, 79% of tourism destinations had already started easing restrictions. In emerging economies, less than half, just 47% of destinations, have started the process.

• 64% of those destinations which have eased have a “high or medium dependence” on airlines to deliver international tourists to their location. Island destinations are particularly at risk at this time as the air lift is critical to their tourist success.

• 43% of all worldwide destinations continue to have their borders completely closed to all tourism, of which 27 destinations have had their borders “completely closed” for at least 7 months.

• Half of all destinations in the survey, with borders completely closed to tourism, are listed as being among the “World’s Most Vulnerable Countries”. They include 10 Small Island Developing States, one Least Developed Country and three Land-Locked Developing Countries.

Should I use a visa agent to extend my visa?

There are plenty of ads being posted at this time offering magic extensions to visas and opportunities to stay in Thailand after September 26. Please be aware that some of these alleged visa agents are scams. There are also plenty of good visa agents who will be able to provide you with advice and solutions, at a cost, allowing you to remain in the country.

If you do wish to contact a visa agent at this time make sure you get a referral from a friend, visit their office in person or ask plenty of questions and check their bonafides. Do not start sending money to accounts until you have seen some paperwork or evidence that they are able to provide you with a legal and professional service. Caveat emptor!

I had a retirement visa and have lived in Thailand for many years. When can I return?

Foreigners with permanent residences who have been stranded overseas for the past 6 months, and long-term foreign residents (retirement visa), can now re-enter Thailand.

Both groups still have to undergo the mandatory state-controlled 14 day quarantine.

If you believe you fall into either of these categories, contact your local Thai Embassy or consulate to discuss your circumstances BEFORE you purchase a ticket or make any other arrangements.

Is it safe in Thailand at the moment?

Yes. No less safe than usual and certainly there has been no civil unrest that would make you ponder your personal safety beyond the usual precautions you would take anywhere in the world. The current student protests are fairly limited and are publicised ahead of time so you can avoid those situations. Whilst there has been some outbursts against foreigners from a Thai politician and a few stressed-out locals, the situation for foreigners remains safe and secure at this time.

What happened to the Phuket Model?

It was a non-starter after the government encountered resistance from some in Phuket. It was also not well received by travellers and many in the local hospitality industry.

At this stage, a model to allow limited tourists to re-enter the country, on extended tourist visas, with some restrictions, is being hammered out by the CCSA in conjunction with the Public Health Department, TAT and Ministry of Sports and Tourism. It’s called the Special Tourist Visa and is aimed at high-wealth tourists with plenty of time, as the visa has a minimum 90 day stay requirement.

Are there any Facebook pages where I can share my story about wanting to come back to Thailand?

The ‘Love Is Not Tourism Thailand’ Facebook page, which includes families torn apart by the pandemic, is calling on the Thai government to help reunite their families.

“We’re asking the government to issue visas or allow entry for family members and lovers to reunite with each other for humanitarian reasons. Evidence such as a passport with an entry stamp into Thailand, photos, and text messages should be able to verify their unions.”

I have been stranded in Thailand since April. Now I have run out of money and don’t know what to do.

This is a really difficult situation and you’d be well advised to contact your friends and family, and advise them of your predicament. Also, you MUST contact your country’s embassy or consulate to alert them of the situation. They will at least have information about repatriating you to your home country or perhaps other options that may be available.

Just hoping your situation is going to improve won’t work. Get as much information as you can about your options. And hopefully your family or friends can send you some funds to tide you over during this crazy time. Chock dee krub!

The airlines are selling tickets to fly to Thailand now. Should I buy one?

No. Don’t buy a ticket for a flight to Thailand until you have ALL the paperwork required, have discussed your trip with your local embassy and you have been approved for travel. Why the airlines keep selling tickets, for flights that will be cancelled, is a mystery.

There are currently no plans to open Thailand’s borders for international tourism beyond proposals for a limited opening for tourism into Phuket called the Phuket Model. It was proposed to start in October but no decisions have been made.

Which leads us to the next question….

When will Thailand open its borders for international tourism?

Both the Civil Aviation Authority and a Deputy Governor from the TAT have stated that it is unlikely that the borders will be reopened for general tourism until 2021. But there is now the new Special Tourist Visa which allows tourists to visit for 90 days at a time (extendable twice for a total of 270 days), at a cost of 2,000 baht per application or extension. There are still quite draconian restrictions on the new visa, including the 14 day mandatory quarantine and lots of paperwork. Your starting point would be to contact your Royal Thai Embassy in your country.

Would a Thailand Elite Visa solve my problems?

Yes and no. The Elite Visa program is an excellent and convenient means of staying in Thailand with few problems, allowing you to avoid visits to Immigration and most of the paperwork. But it’s an expensive up-front costs and, for now, there is a 3-4 month waiting period to process new applications.

At this time, there is also a limit on the number of people, on various visas, they are allowing to re-enter Thailand each day. But if you have the cash, it’s definitely an option as people on the Thailand Elite Visa are currently allowed to re-enter the Kingdom.

Our flight has a transit stop in Thailand. Can we get off the plane and spend a day in Bangkok?

No. At this time all transits require passengers to remain on the plane. There may be some situations where they deplane passengers but you will be restricted to a section of the airport.

Can I get a job, get a new visa and stay in Thailand?

Maybe, possibly. Jobs for foreigners are thin on the ground at the moment. Outside of teaching English (there will always be jobs for English teachers in Thailand), most companies are cutting staff right now, rather than employing. You would need to secure a letter of offer from your new employer and visit you local immigration office to discuss the matter urgently, before September 26.

Can I fly back to my country and get a new Non B visa, and then return to Thailand?

In theory, yes. But it will take some good planning and a dose of luck for the plan to be successful. Theo did it… HERE’s the link to his story. You will certainly need to do a 14 day quarantine upon your return and the capricious nature of various embassy and immigration officials could make the many steps to get all the paperwork a nightmare.

What about other tropical holiday spots?

Island economies, dependent on tourism – from Bali in Indonesia, to Hawaii in the US – grapple with the pandemic, which has brought global travel to a virtual halt. World aviation has dropped by 97% (last month compared year-on-year). Re-opening to tourists has led to the resurgence of infection in some places like the Caribbean island of Aruba, and governments are fearful of striking the wrong balance between public health and economic reality. Even The Maldives, which confidently re-opened for tourism, has had a recent surge of new cases and forcing the government to rethink its plans.

Ibiza and the other popular Spanish party islands, are also devastated by the current Covid situation.

Can I travel to Thailand for medical Tourism?

Yes. Even though Thailand’s borders are still closed to most travel, including tourism, there are some select groups being allowed back into the Kingdom. Medical tourists are one of those groups but, for most countries, ONLY for urgent or emergency medical matters. Foreign medical tourists are now permitted to apply to come to Thailand for medical treatment with strict disease control measures being put in place.

BUT, and there’s always a ‘but’ at the moment, some countries will not permit its citizens to travel outside of their home countries, even for medical emergencies. In all cases, you would need to consult your local Royal Thai Embassy to find out if you are eligible, before you book a flight or sing a contract with a medical provider in Thailand.

Under the CCSA regulations, foreign medical and wellness tourists have to arrive by air to ensure effective disease control, not via land border checkpoints at this stage.

“Those seeking cosmetic surgery and infertility treatments will be allowed to enter the country. Those seeking Covid-19 treatment are barred.”

If you’d like to investigate coming to Thailand at this time, go to MyMediTravel to browse procedures and check out your options.

Spokesperson Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin says the visitors must have an appointment letter from a doctor in Thailand and entry certificates issued by Thai embassies across the globe. People wanting to visit Thailand for medical procedures at this time will need to contact the Thai Embassy in their country to organise the visa and paperwork. Thailand’s major hospitals will provide potential candidates with an appointment letter.

They will also need to produce proof that they tested negative for Covid-19 before their arrival. Once in Thailand they will be tested again and will required to stay at the medical facility for at least 14 days, during which they will be able to start their chosen treatments.

The CCSA says that medical procedures will only be allowed for foreigners at hospitals that have been registered to provide the treatments and have proven their ability to contain any potential outbreak. Potential patients will only be allowed to bring a total of 3 family members or caretakers during their visit to Thailand. Caretakers will have to go through the same screening procedures as the patient.

Embassies and participating hospitals will be able to provide more information about procedures, facilities, paperwork requirements and arrival options.

Again, MAKE SURE you consult the Royal Thai Embassy in your home country before proceeding with any medical tourism pans.

Travel advice from the UK government

From 4 July, Thailand is exempt from the FCO advice against all non-essential international travel. This is based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks.

However, the requirement to self-isolate on return to the UK from Thailand remains in place. See guidance on entering or returning to the UK.

The following advice within Thailand remains in place. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to areas within the provinces on the Thailand-Malaysia border, including…

  • Pattani
  • Yala
  • Narathiwat
  • Southern Songkhla province. This does not include areas north of and including the A43 road between Hat Yai and Sakom, and areas north-west of and including the train line which runs between Hat Yai and Pedang Besar.

Travel to Thailand is subject to entry restrictions.

  • At present only certain categories of foreign nationals are permitted to enter or transit Thailand.
  • If you’re eligible to enter, you will be subject to a 14-day state quarantine at a Thai government-designated facility at your own expense. If suspected of carrying Covid-19, you may be denied entry into the country
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