Thai authorities appear to be adopting a suck-it-and-see approach to covid concerns about hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists expected to visit Thailand in upcoming months. Beijing authorities have announced freedom of travel to and from China from January 8. Whilst some countries – including the United States, Japan and Italy – have announced a requirement for prior RT-PCR tests for all travellers from China, others have decided to lay out the welcome mat without undue restrictions. Just now, Thailand is in that camp.
The Thai health ministry has announced that Bangkok will not lay out extra requirements but will rely on Beijing’s promises that its citizens will need a RT-PCR test both outbound and inbound. Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, in comments reported in the Bangkok Post, stated that Chinese visitors, along with all foreign arrivals, will need health insurance. However, Thailand does not in reality require health insurance of any kind for short-term tourists from any country. The minister also promised AstraZeneca booster shots for Chinese visitors willing to pay.
On the other hand, Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourist Authority of Thailand, stated this week that the priority was not cash-cow Chinese tourists but the need to protect the Thai population from another wave of covid infections, possibly with new and unknown strains being introduced via airports. Meanwhile, many Thai hospitals are reporting that they do not have stocks of vaccines to offer anybody. Checks at Pattaya-area hospitals yesterday revealed that walk-in or prior appointment booster shots have all been ended as stocks already have run out.
Nor is it clear that the Thai health network can hire enough additional staff to offer RT-PCR tests to all Chinese tourists 48 hours ahead of their return to the mother country. To complicate further, India has now announced that all passengers taking flights to any of its airports from both China and Thailand will require a recent RT-PCR test from January 1. There is also confusion concerning how Chinese immigration authorities will receive the results of the covid test. Some reports say prior uploading of the result to airlines or a website is necessary, others claim passengers will simply take the certificate to airport check-in.
It is obvious that the Chinese decision to discard the restrictions on overseas travel, prompted by mass demonstrations against President’s Xi’s zero-covid policy earlier this year, has given a potentially gigantic boost to Thailand’s tourist industry. “Rebound” tourism is on the march worldwide as vacationers rush to enjoy a travel freedom denied them for almost three years. Yet Thai authorities have yet to balance the pros and cons in a systematic manner. In particular, the Thai health system, public and private, risks being overwhelmed by too many demands for both treatment and testing. As always, the devil is in the detail.