Thailand nears deadline to reopen – but Bangkok needs more time
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s 120-day deadline to reopen the country is approaching fast – but few provinces are ready to welcome international visitors without quarantine from October 15.
Bangkok, the face of Thailand in many aspects, looks set to be among those that will stay firmly shut beyond the deadline.
COVID-19 stands in the way
Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang has set three conditions for reopening the Thai capital. Unsurprisingly, all of them relate to COVID-19.
First, at least 70 percent of locals must be fully vaccinated against the disease. Second, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the capital must head downwards. Third, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals must fall as well.
Even though Bangkok’s COVID-19 caseload is on the decline, the virus still blocks the way for a proposal to reopen the Thai capital by October 15. The business sector, which is keen to see travelers return, has lowered its hopes for now.
According to estimates, 70 percent of Bangkok residents will have had both jabs by October 22. Another two weeks will be needed before their immunity rises to the maximum level.
Vaccination rate in Bangkok
Bangkok residents have priority in the government’s vaccination rollout because the capital has been a COVID-19 hotspot for months.
As of midday on Tuesday (Sept 21), 7.56 million Bangkok residents or about 95.46 percent had received their first shot.
However, only 3.32 million (41.92 percent) were fully vaccinated with both shots.
Reopening of Bangkok, 4 other provinces likely delayed to November 1
The reopening of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan, initially scheduled for October 1st in the second phase of opening to fully vaccinated and COVID-negative international arrivals without quarantine, is likely to be postponed to November 1st, according to Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn.
New cases, hospital-bed occupancy situation
Official statistics show the infection rate in Bangkok is dropping. On September 17, new cases totaled 2,911. By September 21, that figure had dropped to 2,561.
The figures were greeted as a good sign by Public Health Ministry permanent secretary Dr. Kiattibhoom Vongrachit. He pointed out that the number of new cases was low compared to the capital’s population.
“There are now hundreds of hospital beds available for critical patients. And there are thousands of hospital beds free for patients with milder symptoms,” he said on Tuesday.
The improvement showed that people have a good understanding of the home-isolation system and practices, which are stopping the disease from spreading within households, he added.
Judging by these figures, vaccination is the final key necessary for unlocking Bangkok.
A recent Bangkok Poll survey of 1,200 people nationwide found that almost two-thirds (62.7 percent) were worried that easing COVID restrictions in hotspots including Bangkok could spark a resurgence of the crisis. The height of Thailand’s COVID-19 outbreak saw new infections soar past 20,000 per day.
Although the focus was not directly on Bangkok, the survey revealed that most people still fear COVID-19. According to the findings, about 41 percent of respondents were continuing to stay at home most of the time despite the lifting of semi-lockdown restrictions.
What if Bangkok reopens?
The Thai Chamber of Commerce estimates that between 100,000 and 150,000 international visitors will visit Bangkok this year if it reopens. The chamber reckons each will stay an average of eight to 10 days in the capital and spend around Bt50,000 per head. Their benefit to the virus-devastated Thai economy would be significant.
Phuket and Phang Nga are among a handful of Thai provinces that have already opened to international visitors with relaxed quarantine rules. And while Krabi has just backtracked from reopening in the face of a soaring local infection rate, four more provinces – Chon Buri (Sattahip, Bang La Mung), Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin), Phetchaburi (Cha-Am), and Chiang Mai (Muang, Mae Rim, and Doi Tao) – are determined to open their doors to international visitors on October 1.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk