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Thailand News Update | Test & Go, Sandboxes and Blue Zones?

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Last Friday’s announced new Covid-19 restrictions and regulations were passed into law yesterday and enacted in the Royal Gazette. The Test & Go program, that allowed people to enter without quarantine, requiring only a short wait while their PCR test results came back, has been suspended indefinitely since December 22. So new applications for Test & Go into Thailand are not an option at this stage, for anyone.There had been a panic for those who had already been approved for a Thailand Pass under the Test & Go scheme. A PowerPoint slide during a presentation by the CCSA on Friday had the cut-off date of January 15 for those already approved to enter.But the CCSA later walked back that date, saying that it was a proposal only that ended up being broadcast on television, and then published far and wide. Bottomline, for the time being, if you have an approved Test & Go application, and the QR code to get into the country, you should – in theory – be allowed to enter Thailand on your original booking, with no confirmed cut off date. For now, the CCSA has announced that Phuket will be joined by 3 more Sandbox programmes through which people can enter the country using a 7 day soft quarantine where they can merrily roam around a region, without being confined to their hotel. After 7 days in a Sandbox area, travellers can move onto any other part of Thailand.So, from tomorrow, January 11, incoming international travellers will be able to apply for a Sandbox program anywhere in the provinces of Krabi and Phang Nga, as well as the 3 Surat Thani province islands of Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao.There will also be a full quarantine option for other parts of the country where the length of stay ranges from 7 to 14 days, depending on where you are travelling from and whether you’ve been fully vaccinated or not.Applications for the 4 Sandboxes open on the Thailand Pass website from tomorrow, Thai time.Now to the Blue Zone provinces and districts… having become more significant because the serving of alcohol has been banned in 69 of Thailand’s 77 provinces as of yesterday.Blue zones have fewer restrictions which still allow alcohol to be served until 9 pm in restaurants that have received an SHA+ certification. We also recognise that there have been many bars and clubs that have been quickly converted makeshift restaurants to sail through this loophole in the Blue Zone provinces.Now, to make things more confusing, in addition to the eight published Blue Zone provinces, the CCSA has added 18 DISTRICTS that are now are labelled blue zone areas INSIDE provinces that are orange zones and restricted.There’s a full description of where these districts are at thethaiger.comAs far as the rest of the country is concerned, the 69 provinces designated as orange zones, you can operate most businesses as normal with Covid-19 precautions, including restaurants though they are not allowed to sell alcohol. Gyms, parks, sports fields, and swimming pools can also open, though sporting events must have attendance capped at 75% for outdoor venues and 50% for indoor venues.Salons, massage parlours, spas, and tattoo parlours are allowed to open until midnight. Again, the full list of all these details at thethaiger.comWhile the Omicron variant is now estimated to account for about 30% of all new Covid infections in Thailand, experts believe that the actual number of cases of the strain is massively underreported. Dr Yong Poovorawan, the chief of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University, says that the more intensive testing to identify not just a Covid infection, but the Omicron variant itself, is not being done frequently enough to identify the Omicron variant.Dr Yong believes this to be the case in Thailand but also in many countries around the world, saying that the true number of Omicron variant infections is likely much higher than what has been reported globally. The problem is, while we have multiple testing methods available widely to detect a Covid-19 infection, identifying the Omicron strain requires genome analysis tests.Right now, Thailand can only test samples for Omicron in Bangkok and nearby provinces, but Dr Yong predicts that at least 30% of infections across the country are now of the highly contagious strain. Meanwhile, the Department of Disease Control says Delta is still the dominant variant in Thailand, estimating 70% to 80% of all current infections are Delta.On the bright side, Omicron is proving to be a weaker strain despite being a lot more transmissible, so severe symptoms and death rates have been lower, so far. After a shooting on Friday at a Phuket City Fresh Market, that left 3 injured and 2 dead, police announced yesterday that they have apprehended a suspect in the case. Investigators have been tracking the man’s escape after he fled the scene of the crime and managed to pick him up yesterday morning. He allegedly confessed to the crime and blamed financial hardships for his business and personal depression.The shooter was identified as a 47 year from Songkhla who operated one of the seafood stalls right in the area where the shooting took place. He had initially called the police, saying he was surrendering, but instead went on the run.The man’s SUV was abandoned at Laem Hin Pier and CCTV footage captured him boarding a longtail boat towards Coconut Island. But the boat headed to Krabi province instead.He had a car waiting for him that took off towards his home province of Songkhla and he fled to his hometown in Hat Yai. He was eventually taken into custody and held at the Hat Yai Police Station until around 3:30 am when Phuket City Investigation Unit officers picked him up and transported him on the 7 hour journey back to Phuket where he faces formal charges today.And in Chiang Mai, authorities have closed 23 restaurants from between 3 days and 2 weeks over the weekend. The order came as Chiang Mai battles with increased Covid-19 infections like most of the country.Officials inspected the 23 restaurants to see that they had closed as ordered, finding that some had already closed, even before the official order closing them. Others were not aware of the order until the officials showed up and informed them. 4 restaurants were ordered by the Chiang Mai Disease Control Committee to shut down for 2 full weeks, while another 4 were ordered to close for a week. The remaining 15 restaurants were ordered to close for just a 3 day cleanup. A list of all the affected restaurants at thethaiger.comAnd important regional news, after nearly a year of deadly conflict between the Burmese military junta that overthrew the government and citizen protesters and rebel insurgent groups, the Burmese junta chief has declared a ceasefire in Myanmar after a controversial meeting with Cambodian PM Hun Sen. The meeting of the Cambodian PM and the Burmese army chief was held on Friday, after months of ASEAN trying to send an envoy to negotiate peace in Myanmar.The Burmese Junta leader says that he was asking in the interest of the people of Myanmar that all parties stay calm and refrain from any more violence in acceptance of the peace treaty.In a surprising change of course, Min Aung Hlaing says he welcomed the Special Ambassador to Myanmar from ASEAN to take part in the ceasefire talks with representatives from the Ethnic Armed Organisations after months of treading water trying to get representatives from the countries of Southeast Asia into Myanmar with no progress.Hun Sen was the first foreign leader on Burmese soil since the coup last February. He spent two days on the ground in hopes of finding solutions to the political crisis and opening up the military junta to constructive talks with countries in the region that have a stake in the stability of Myanmar and Southeast Asia.

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