thailand further eases international entry restrictions despite omicron outbreaks - Thailand Further Eases International Entry Restrictions, Despite Omicron Outbreaks

Thailand yesterday announced that it will ease its COVID-19 requirements for international travelers from the beginning of next month, despite a worsening outbreak driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the virus.

In announcing the policy yesterday, the government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration said that starting from March 1, vaccinated international travelers will still have to undergo one reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test after arriving. But they will no longer have to take another RT-PCR test on the fifth day of their arrival; instead they will able to do a rapid antigen test and report the result on a cellphone app.

However, visitors will still need to take an RT-PCR test 72 hours before traveling to Thailand and spend their first night in hotel quarantine or at other approved quarantine facilities. Unvaccinated travelers can also enter Thailand, but will be required to undergo a 10-day quarantine in an approved hotel.

The move marks the full reinstatement of the “Test and Go” scheme that the Thai government introduced at the start of November, when it reopened to fully vaccinated travelers from more than 60 countries, ending 18 months of border closures that brought the country’s economically vital tourist industry to a standstill.

Just before Christmas, Thailand suspended the scheme out of caution following the appearance of the fast-spreading Omicron variant. “Test and Go” was reinstated at the start of February with some additional restrictions. According to the Bangkok Post, the move follows requests from the local tourism industry to remove obstacles to its revival, as more countries, including several in Southeast Asia, ease border controls to lure holidaymakers.

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On February 9, the Philippines announced its full opening to vaccinated foreign travelers, five days after Indonesia opened the island of Bali to tourists. Earlier this month, Malaysia’s government raised the possibility of opening its borders in March, but is currently eyeing the second quarter of the year.

The Thai announcement came despite the country’s health authorities reporting 21,232 confirmed COVID-19 infections, the highest since the August peak of last year’s devastating Delta outbreak. But as in many other countries, the Omicron wave has been accompanied by relatively low rates of hospitalization and death.

According to the Associated Press, spokesperson Taweesin visanuyothin said the death toll this year has been as low as 0.19 percent, which gave the government the confidence to loosen restrictions on foreign travelers, especially given the importance of the country’s tourist sector. Yesterday, Thailand recorded 39 deaths, compared with more than 300 a day during the peak of the Delta surge.

The spike earlier this week prompted the Ministry of Public Health to raise its COVID-19 alert to Level 4, but the authorities have so far ruled out any new lockdowns. Indeed, given the experience of the Philippines, which saw infections reach all-time highs last month before falling back down rapidly, Thailand’s outbreak may shrink just in time for the country to welcome a wave of foreign visitors.