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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