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Thailand’s tourism in the Covid 2021 era

The Thaiger

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Thailand’s tourism in the Covid 2021 era | The Thaiger

OPINION by Andrew J Wood

Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine this week for emergency use in the country. Two private hospitals are also ordering millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines ahead of this regulatory approval. This is in addition to the government’s order of 63 million doses from two main sources as Thailand rushes to implement vaccinations for the majority of its population.

With regard to it’s non-Thai residents it is still unclear if this includes the substantial expat community or whether they will be excluded, as the country tackles a second wave of the virus.

The future of travel in Thailand is to open borders while mitigating the risk. This can be achieved by ensuring illegal border crossings are tightly controlled and all travellers tested. Tourists arriving should not only be tested showing they are free from covid, but to avoid quarantine, must also have been vaccinated. The numbers will be small to start with but the industry is at a complete standstill. I have never experienced anything close to the devastating effects of the coronavirus.

The tourism industry has ground to a halt and is currently battling a spate of infections brought about by poor Burmese workers searching for work and sneaking across the border and spreading infections before restrictions were put in place. As a counter measure to reduce the spread the government has restricted everyone from high risk areas from travelling freely around the country. Putting a firm brake on domestic tourism in addition to international arrivals.

The introduction of colour-coded zones has been put in place since a major outbreak occurred in Samut Sakhon at a seafood market with illegal Burmese migrant workers. In addition to restricted domestic travel an amnesty for the illegal entrants has been offered by the Thai government in a serious effort to reduce infections and have all illegal migrants registered and tested.

Qantas is also toying with requiring vaccinations and was the first airline to announce it will require international passengers to be vaccinated. Singapore is also considering relaxing its quarantine rules for vaccinated travellers if clinical trials show vaccines lower transmission risks. (However short-term visitors will need to show evidence of insurance to cover medical treatment and returning Singapore citizens from Britain and South Africa will be subject to additional restrictions).

Until there’s an abundance of approved and delivered vaccines, it’s all but impossible for anyone outside government to get a shot. However there will be a market driven by those with money to jump queues as we saw recently. Once the UK approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, travel agents in India started seeing an increase for quick vaccination trips to the U.K. Attention is now on the US and Russia as possible vaccine destinations.

But it’s not all about money. In Thailand according to a Reuters report, a million doses of the Sinovac vaccine has been ordered by the Thonburi Healthcare Group, with an option to buy 9 million more. The hospital group plans to use half to inoculate staff in its network of 40 hospitals.

The Thai government has separately ordered 2 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech and expects delivery of 200,000 doses with plans to inoculate frontline workers and medical professionals in high-risk areas next month.

The government has also ordered 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be produced by local firm Siam Bioscience for domestic use and export.

For patients, Thonburi’s medical centres plan to offer 2 vaccine injections for 3,200 baht ($106) and say they cannot take a profit because it is a humanitarian issue for the country.

However it is claimed that rich nations are stockpiling the most promising coronavirus vaccines, and people in poorer nations could miss out as a result. Campaigners are urging pharma companies to share technology so more doses can be made.

Just 1 in 10 people in dozens of poor countries will be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus because wealthy countries have hoarded more doses than they need, said the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition including Oxfam, Amnesty International and Global Justice Now.

They claim that rich nations have bought 54% of the total stock of the world’s most promising vaccines, despite being home to just 14% of the global population, said the Alliance.

Those wealthy nations have purchased enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations three times over by the end of 2021 if the vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials are approved for use.

The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns that the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” over Covid-19 vaccine distribution, he urges countries and manufacturers to share doses more fairly across countries. Mr. Ghebreyesus said this week that prospects for equitable distribution are at serious risk. “Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic.”

Safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines mean that life, including travel, are likely to get back to normal one day. Assuming that vaccines also protect against most virus mutations as well as against spreading the virus, Covid restrictions should end once *herd immunity is achieved. The whole world needs immunity, and achieving that in 2021 is unlikely.

Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.

Not all businesses have been forced to close down but widespread financial uncertainty means the tourism industry has struggled over the last year. It is grim, however I think even if we get a small fraction of the 39 million tourists of 2019 we can survive and prosper.

The short term goal is survival and then to start to thrive in the ‘new world’ of tourism. Getting back ALL that was lost is not realistic or achievable nor should it be a goal.

Our focus on combating the virus and providing relief to our tourism industry should be the goal of all travel and tourism associations here in Thailand. Unity and leadership is so desperately needed if we are to look forward to recovery including the introduction of stimulus measures.

Accelerating the distribution of vaccines is the key to getting travel back to normal, and to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

For many travel business owners and hoteliers the challenges are to ensure a positive cash flow and GOP (a company’s profit from selling goods or services in a particular period before costs not directly related to producing them). Any asset value increases would be welcome but unlikely just now as property prices are currently turning south. Property maintenance and equipment replacement will be a real challenge in the future as Return On Investment fall short.

Government assistance on tax and payroll would be really helpful at this juncture but our industry is so fragmented and ‘unorganised’ in a collective sense. Governments consider hospitality and service industries in general as good employees of the grey areas of the workforce, that have a way of “sorting themselves out” with little need for government help.

Any cries for help are often ignored as the political will is simply not there. Our voice is drowned out by louder more organised industries that offer opportunities of jobs and local investment.

The tourism industry is called an invisible export…

However government grants and loans to small businesses are essential, the economic hardships of the pandemic will persist, so it is important that struggling businesses receive assistance to maintain operations and keep workers on payrolls.

Travel will play a vital role in Thailand’s economic recovery in the months ahead, but businesses will need lifelines by the government to survive until regular travel can fully resume.

Also a key lesson I see from other industries is that they be able to adapt quickly, look at noodle sellers here in Bangkok. Lines of Grab Bikes delivering take away food — changes are happening overnight and there’s no time for long deliberations and discussions. Those that can react quickly to these big shifts in consumer demands and priorities are going to come out on top.

As to jumping on a plane anytime soon, well that appears most unlikely. My birth country the UK, according to it’s current rules, once the lockdown is over, Brits could legally go on holiday abroad if they live in tiers one or two. However, holidays are effectively off the cards for the UK until at least April 2021.

As for Thailand our seven steps to navigate before anyone may be granted permission to enter, greatly impact the process of entering the country.

The ASEAN Tourism Association warned last week that 70% of travel agents in Thailand would cease to operate this year if the Thai government did not step in with assistance.

It is clear the second round of the Covid-19 epidemic has severely affected faith in the future inbound tourism industry, many agents have to decide to either suspend or close operations. The Thai government has not offered the private sector any substantial assistance, short or long term. There is considerable confusion about whether to invest in keeping a business going or whether to close. The government must be clear in its policy to help or not help the travel industry.

ANDREW J WOOD

Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has 48 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skål International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

The content of this article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of The Thaiger.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rasputin

    Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    I don’t think covid is a huge problem in Thailand at the moment, despite growing numbers of cases, the relatively low infection count is still containable. But, if they take their eyes off the situation and become complacent, it very soon could become out of control, with all the problems that would inevitably accompany it.

  2. Avatar

    Jesus Monroe

    Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    The government is hell bent on killing the industry…….Poverty in the name of the game for the future……..maybe the cheap days of the 70s will come back for farangs again………

  3. Avatar

    luca

    Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 7:00 pm

    I think that tourism in Thailand, when it will be possible to reopen the borders in 2022, will be very different from the recent past and contrary to the expectations of Thai ministers, especially at the beginning it will see more farang than the famous high-beam tourists arrive

  4. Avatar

    Ben

    Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 8:45 pm

    I agree with the article’s conclusions.

    Although the world is calling for a more equitable distribution of the available vaccines, as Thailand knows very well, money talks. The richer countries will inoculate their populations before giving up any of their vaccine stock because their economies are at risk and that’s a risk that’s unacceptable.

    2021 is the year recovery starts and figuring out the new normal. We’ll figure out the mousetrap this year and it’ll start picking up steam towards the end of this year into next. As tourists start to show up with money to spend new tour companies and tourist infrastructure will spring up to replace those that have fallen in 2020. It always does.

  5. Avatar

    Mckinney82

    Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at 11:19 am

    If that’s for Astra zeneca jabs, then they are making a profit.
    Could Thai tiger kindly post a newsworthy story about the prices of covid19 tests in private Thai hospitals – without symptoms, for private use/fit to fly. About time to name and shame. Surely printing facts wouldn’t be libelous. Would it?
    If anyone knows cheaper than the hospital in Ramkamheng, I would be interested. Certificates in English of course, which probably rules out small government hospitals.

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79 new cases today-COVID-19 Update

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79 new cases today-COVID-19 Update | The Thaiger

Today, the Thai government is reporting 79 new cases of Covid-19, with 65 locally-transmitted, and 14 imported, raising the total to 26,241 since the pandemic began. 1 new death has been reported, raising the total amount of deaths to 85. The new infections, which are now in the double-digits, shows Thailand’s Covid situation as improving according to the assistant spokeswoman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, Panprapa Yongtrakul.

“The two-digit level of new cases found at hospitals and communities shows that the local Covid-19 situation is under control.”

The CCSA reports that 43 of the 65 local infections were found in communities with 22 of the 65 found in hospitals across 4 provinces.

Samut Sakhon province, the source of the second wave of Covid in the Kingdom, reported 77% of the new cases. Of the 50 cases found in the province, 38 were found in communities and 12 were found at hospitals.

Pathum Thani reported 8 new cases, with 3 being found at hospitals, and 5 in the community. Bangkok reported 6 new cases at hospitals and Chon Buri reported 1 infection found at a hospital. 12 of the 14 imported infections were quarantined arrivals from Russia, The United Arab Emirates, The United States, Slovenia, South Africa, Germany, Libya and Italy.

79 new cases today-COVID-19 Update | News by The Thaiger

The other 2 imported cases were that of Thai women, who ellegedly returned from Myanmar illegally through a natural border crossing in Tak province, despite the government closing off natural border crossings after the February coup by the military in Myanmar.

Covid-19 cases rose worldwide by 446,747 over the past 24 hours to 116.21 million. The worldwide death toll rose by 9,955 to 2.58 million. The US still has the most cases at 29.53 million, rising by 68,321 over the past 24 hours, and the most deaths at 533,636, rising by 1,993 over the last 24 hours.

In light of the recent downturn in reported cases, Samut Sakhon has recently reopened 22 of its wet markets. However, the seafood market where the second wave of the Covid outbreak began, is not one of them, and it is not yet known when that might reopen.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thai Health Minister to chair panel on travel bubbles, vaccine passports

Maya Taylor

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Thai Health Minister to chair panel on travel bubbles, vaccine passports | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Thailand’s Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, will chair a meeting on Monday, in which a vaccine passport scheme and potential travel bubbles will be discussed. Anutin says those who’ve been inoculated against Covid-19 will be issued with a book to confirm their vaccination. It’s hoped this will make international travel easier, as well as boosting the public’s confidence and helping life return to some kind of normality.

“The Public Health Ministry is making preparations to bring life back to normal, restore businesses and revive the Thai economy.”

A number of groups and industry representatives have added their voices to growing calls for a vaccine passport policy. The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking is urging the government to implement the scheme without further delay, while also calling for private companies in Thailand to be allowed purchase and distribute vaccines.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is also pushing for a vaccine passport policy, while the Tourism Ministry has urged the Health Ministry to approve one. Meanwhile the PM, Prayut Chan-o-cha has asked the Foreign Ministry to carry out a study on vaccine passports, adding that the jury is still out as to their effectiveness. They also have their critics, primarily among rights’ groups and doctors, who argue that there is not yet enough evidence that vaccination prevents transmission.

At Monday’s meeting of the National Communicable Diseases Committee, the Anutin-led panel will also discuss the idea of travel bubbles. Thailand has been considering entering into reciprocal travel arrangements with countries with a high take-up of Covid-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, Anutin says the public must continue with the practice of mask-wearing, noting that the number of Thais doing so has recently slipped. He says that recent data shows the number of people wearing masks has dropped below 80%, compared to 90% last month.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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Hospital in northern Thailand closes to visitors after 2 patients test positive for Covid-19

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Hospital in northern Thailand closes to visitors after 2 patients test positive for Covid-19 | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thailand Medical News

A hospital in the northern province of Tak has had to shut its doors to visitors after 2 patients treated at the facility subsequently tested positive for Covid-19. Nation Thailand reports that Mae Sot Hospital is now closed to visitors until Monday.

It’s understood that 19 staff members have had contact with 2 patients who tested positive for the virus. Hospital director Thawatchai Setsuppana says the closure is to facilitate a deep clean of the facility and confirmed that a number of medical workers are self-isolating.

“3 doctors, 11 nurses and 5 patient assistants have been ordered to undergo 14-day quarantine.”

Officials are now questioning both patients, in an effort to trace others who may have had contact with them. Tak province is on the border with Myanmar, which has had 142,000 cases of the virus, with 3,200 deaths.

Meanwhile, in the northern province of Sukothai, the provincial Public Health Office has confirmed that a Thai national who returned from working at a casino in Myanmar has also tested positive for Covid-19. It’s understood the woman developed symptoms prior to entering Thailand at the border town of Mae Sot on March 1, before taking a bus to her home in order to attend her grandfather’s funeral.

The provincial health office has issued a statement to confirm the timeline of the woman’s movements. It’s understood 17 people had contact with the woman, with 7 of those considered “high-risk”.

“On March 2, she took a Covid-19 test at Sukhothai Hospital and went shopping in Muang district before heading home. She was admitted to Ban Dan Lan Hoi Hospital on March 3 after her test came back positive.”

It is unclear how the woman managed to evade the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Border officials have stepped up patrols in recent weeks, amid fears that Burmese nationals fleeing the violence in Myanmar may attempt to cross illegally into Thailand, bypassing health checks and quarantine.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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