Thailand limits arrivals, with ‘Thailand Pass’ applications suspended over Omicron concerns
In a surprise and pre-emptive move, to stem the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), ordered a temporary and immediate suspension of the issuance of the “Thailand Passes” from today (Tuesday) until January 4th , 2022 and have imposed the quarantine requirement for those without a pass or outside of the Phuket sandbox program.
About 90,000 people who have applied for or have been granted the “Thailand Pass” but have yet to enter the country, can still enter the kingdom through the “Test and Go” scheme for fully vaccinated arrivals from 63 low-risk countries and territories until January 10th, 2022, with only minimal quarantine of about one day. A total of about 200,000 people have been granted the pass so far, with about 110,000 already in Thailand.
Those still coming to Thailand under the “Test and Go” scheme will now have to go through more intense checks, such as two RT-PCR tests, and will be closely monitored.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the following new measures will apply for all applicants to Thailand Pass:
- Applicants who have already received their Thailand Pass QR Code can enter Thailand under the scheme they have registered.
- Applicants who have already registered, but have not yet received their QR Code must wait for their Thailand Pass to be considered / approved. Once approved, they can enter Thailand under the scheme they have registered.
- New applicants will no longer be able to register for the Test and Go and Sandbox schemes (except for Phuket Sandbox). Thailand Pass will accept new applicants seeking to enter Thailand under the Alternative Quarantine (AQ) or Phuket Sandbox schemes only.
- Passengers who will arrive in Thailand under the Test and Go and Sandbox schemes must now undergo a 2nd COVID-19 test using the RT-PCR technique (not ATK self-test) at government-designated facilities (no additional cost).
Additionally, “sandbox” programmes, which have been in place in several areas in 17 provinces, except the “Phuket Sandbox”, will also be suspended until January 4th, pending reassessment. The sandbox scheme requires travelers to remain in the province of arrival for at least seven days at a certified hotel before traveling elsewhere, but without a strict quarantine rule. This means that to avoid the seven-to-fourteen-day quarantine, travelers can enter Thailand through Phuket.
Emerging from the cabinet meeting this afternoon, the prime minister said that the government will review the situation again in January and decide whether the “test and go” scheme should resume.
The prime minister also said he has asked officials whether they are capable of coping with the 90,000 travelers who are yet to arrive, particularly with the possibility that some may be infected with the Omicron variant, and they said that they are confident they can handle the situation.
Meanwhile, about 30 tourism business operators rallied at the Ministry of Public Health today to protest against the suspension of the “Test and Go” program, claiming that it will hurt their businesses, especially during the lead-up to the New Year festival.
A group representative said that people in the tourism sector are afraid that the suspension of “Test and Go” may lead to a partial lockdown of the country again and she asked the Ministry of Public Health, or the CCSA, to stop instilling fear in people about the Omicron variant and to declare COVID-19 a local disease which is treatable.
Earlier today, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul appeared hesitant over the suspension of the “Test and Go” program, as proposed by the Disease Control Department, pointing out that about half of the foreign tourists already granted permission to visit Thailand are already in the country.
He added, however, that the ministry will increase COVID-19 screening of those already in Thailand.