OpinionTourism

Can we say good-riddance to the Thailand Pass on July 1?

OPINION

“Hopefully, and essentially, there has to be a radical Thailand Pass-ectomy.”

July 1 seems so far away as the rest of the world has moved on and opened up, with many SE Asian destinations also dispensing with many of their Covid-arrival procedures already, or in the next month.

Whilst the rest of the world has established new travel lanes and travel bubbles, Thailand remains in a time bubble, stuck mid-2021 in a pre-Omicron world of curfews, restrictions and incoming travellers treated like extras in The Andromeda Strain (a 1971 sci-fi B-grade movie about a viral pandemic).

Travellers arriving in Thailand are still welcomed by the completely unnecessary vista of awaiting PPE-clad officials with their swabs and checklists. After being whisked through immigration they continue in their escorted isolation to a pre-paid SHA+ hotel to have their also-pre-paid PCR test.

They then live in hope for a negative test, after reading hundreds of horror stories from people that didn’t receive the news they were hoping for, and ended up whisked away to alternative quarantine accommodation, at their expense, or the joy of spending another 9 or so days at the SHA+ hotel they had only selected because it was the cheapest option for the first night stay (in a location they never really wanted to stay).

But July 1 is now the D-Day where the Covid clouds will apparently part to reveal the sunshine and cool breezes of Thailand’s post-covid world, if you believe all the hoopla from Thailand’s health and tourism tzars.

On Wednesday, Thailand’s National Communicable Disease Committee approved Thailand’s Public Health Ministry plans to classify Covid-19 as an endemic disease, starting on July 1… “if things go according to plan”.

Covid, a coronavirus, eagerly awaits the orders and dates from Thailand’s CCSA before it then assembles to plan the next phase of ‘its’ pandemic.

“To be able to be classified as an endemic disease, the death ratio must not exceed 1 in 1000 people infected, or 0.1%. The current death rate is from 0.2% to 0.25%.”

Thailand registered 23,584 more Covid infections and 66 new Covid-related fatalities during the previous 24 hours. There will also be 40,000+ unofficial results from positive ATK test, if the numbers follow the trends from the past few weeks.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul says that the July 1 plan is “based on the principle that the good health of the people and the national economy must go together”.

Now Thailand is scurrying to ready its vaccination management, medical services for infected people, Covid monitoring and screening measures, prevention and containment of the disease, appropriate travel restrictions and legal measures (whatever that means).

“Despite all these measures, life should be as normal as possible while the economy is recovering.”

“Even if Covid becomes an endemic disease, the population may still be required to wear face masks, avoid group gatherings, wash their hands often, undergo rapid antigen tests and get vaccinated.”

So Thailand’s 2 year journey of restrictions and demonising of the Covid-19 virus will continue, in the Health Minister’s own words, even after the magic July 1 date.

So what, exactly, will change on July 1, 2022?

Hopefully, and essentially, there has to be a radical Thailand Pass-ectomy. The system, designed to upload related medical and travel information for incoming travellers, has been beset with problems – phishing, security leaks, hotel scams, horror stories of families being separated, email scams. And it’s been expensive. Far from adding a layer of trust in the Thailand brand, it’s done the exact opposite, social media has seen to that.

There has also been thousands of travellers coming to Thailand at this difficult time and having a fantastic experience. They have been in the vast majority. But the thousands of high-profile and well-publicised Thailand Pass-related disasters have done nothing to enhance the reputation of Thailand’s tourism and hospitality industry.

The Thailand Pass has done a lot more bad than good and it simply needs to be wiped off Thailand’s tourism map before any meaningful advance can be made to recover the fragile tourist industry – an industry we’re oft reminded contributes up to 20% of Thailand’s annual GDP.

But anyone expecting July 1 to arrive, and then a magical lifting of all the red-tape and nonsense of the Thailand Pass, will be sadly mistaken. Be assured there will be ‘zones’, ‘precautions’ and ‘appropriate travel restrictions’ (the minister’s own words). Thailand may well be opening up but the Government seems obsessed with maintaining a high level of ‘precautions’ which everyone else now reads as ‘inconveniences’.

The tourism recovery for Thailand is going to be difficult enough as we emerge into some sort of post-Covid world. We’ve now got a real war underway in Ukraine, a new Cold War between the US and China and US and Russia, soaring oil prices, inflation. Etc. Flights to Thailand will be more expensive for at least the rest of 2022.

That Thai authorities seem to be approaching the July 1 date with such unrealistic caution is dragging out Thailand’s economic recovery and allowing regional competitors to steal the show and capture the dribble of international travellers.

In the next month Vietnam and Malaysia say they are opening up again with few, if any, inbound precautions. The Philippines are already open with a single PCR test before your departure. Cambodia is also already open with an ATK test on arrival. On the other hand Thailand sticks with its Thailand Pass, its litany of ‘victims’, ongoing approval delays and digital confusion – at least until July 1 and maybe beyond.

But Thailand insists it is considering abolishing the mandatory Covid insurance (currently US$20,000, down from from US$50,000 on February 1). “Considering”.

The Philippines still insists on insurance worth at least US$35,000, the Cambodian government website has no compulsory cover for tourists (although some are required to have a ‘Covid’ bond of US$2,000) and Malaysia does not require mandatory insurance in its latest announcements.

So pardon us if we can’t get too excited about July 1. But we are excited about an imminent Thailand Pass-ectomy and a swift recovery from this poorly considered digital mess.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus is grateful that the Thai government has decided when ‘it’ can be endemic.

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Tim Newton

Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2011. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for 42 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program (public radio Australia), presented over 11,000 radio news bulletins, 3,950 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.