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Thailand Health Minister mulls return of test and go scheme to ease travel restrictions

Thailand’s Public Health Minister says he supports the reinstatement of the Test and Go entry system as fears about the Omicron variety fade.

Test and Go was put on hold around four weeks ago while the highly infectious variety swept over the world. Now, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul says he’ll urge the CCSA to reconsider reintroducing it, as well as loosening a number of other limitations.

According to a report, Anutin will submit his appeal to the CCSA following discussions with the Department of Disease Control, during which it was determined that Omicron did not cause the wave of severe sickness and hospitalizations that the government had expected.

Test and Go scheme would revive economy

Anutin wants to see a balance achieved between disease control and reviving the country’s suffering economy. What is unknown is if he intends to propose the reopening of nightlife and entertainment facilities.

The ministry has long believed that such venues constitute a breeding environment for the virus, with many big clusters associated with recent end-of-year celebrations.

Thailand Health Minister mulls return of test and go scheme to ease travel restrictions
Travellers line up in an airport in Thailand.

In related news, Ramathibodi Hospital’s Centre for Medical Genomics reports that Omicron has nearly totally supplanted Delta in the capital. Tests on infected individuals in Bangkok and elsewhere in central Thailand reveal that the Omicron variation accounts for 91 percent of infections, while the Delta variant accounts for only 2.8 percent.

According to the center, everyone will ultimately contract the milder Omicron form, which will aid in the development of immunity.

Tourism and Sports Ministry supports reopening of Test and Go scheme

It’s hardly surprising that Thailand’s tourist officials are trying to reopen registration for the Test and Go quarantine exemption program. According to Thai media, the Tourism and Sports Ministry, in collaboration with the Public Health Ministry, would present a request to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration to begin registration for the entrance plan by February.

The minister, Pipat Ratchakitprakarn, told reporters that the Covid-19 crisis in Thailand is under control and has passed its height, and that Thailand is expected to welcome 8 million visitors and produce over 480,000 million baht this year. The CCSA will convene a brief meeting on January 19 before making final decisions in its general meeting on Thursday, which will be headed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Due to the Omicron pandemic in Thailand, registration for the Test and Go scheme has been suspended for the last month, but those who have already registered can continue to enter Thailand under the scheme. Test and Go vaccinated travelers can enter Thailand with only a short quarantine time, often up to one night in an authorized hotel, while waiting for the results of an RT-PCR test.

Pipat stated that the scheme should be resumed since the Ministry of Public Health can restrict the spread based on the number of new cases, which is decreasing day by day. He went on to claim that the figure increased from 7,000 to 8,000 instances following the new year, from January 10 to 14, and that the infection rate had peaked. While Omicron has been on the rise, many Thais infected with the variant have not experienced significant symptoms. He also stated that more than 70% of the population had gotten two doses of the Covid-19 vaccination.

Thailand Health Minister mulls return of test and go scheme to ease travel restrictions
Thailand Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul

However, reinstatement of the scheme may be accompanied by harsher sanctions. According to the governor of Thailand’s Tourism Authority, officials are considering Covid-19 preventive measures for persons entering Thailand under the scheme. Following allegations in Thai media of numerous travelers “eluding” quarantine while waiting for on-arrival test results, officials are reportedly debating whether to force travelers to download the Mor Chana application to monitor their whereabouts.

Thai airlines hope for return of Test and Go scheme

According to the head of the Thai Airlines Association, the government must enable the Test and Go entry scheme to restart as soon as feasible. Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, the CEO of Bangkok Airways, believes the initiative was successful in luring more international tourists to the country, and airlines are eager to see it revived.

According to a report, Puttipong believes the government should analyze the severity of Omicron and restart Test and Go based on the number of serious illnesses. International arrivals must now choose between enforced isolation and quarantine in Bangkok or one of the country’s sandbox schemes since the suspension of Test and Go. If they choose one of the sandbox entry programs, they must spend at least seven nights in Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga, or Koh Samui and then test negative for Covid-19 before being allowed to go further in Thailand.

Puttipong is encouraging the government to reconsider its stance on the Omicron variant because it causes lesser symptoms in persons who have been vaccinated. He points out that airlines already employ severe health-protection protocols. While domestic flights may resume if it is determined that Omicron is no longer a threat, this will not be enough to support Thailand’s aviation and tourist businesses.

“If Omicron is not deadly, domestic flights will rebound shortly, but this is not adequate to support the industry. Thai tourism needs the international market to reach full capacity.”

Meanwhile, Thai Lion Air CEO Aswin Yangkirativorn believes the government’s policy towards the Omicron variant, particularly the decision to stop Test and Go, has generated enormous uncertainty in the aviation industry. TLA, he says, has no intentions to relaunch international flights at this time and is urging the government to offer greater assistance for domestic tourism by proposing stimulus measures and subsidies that would encourage more people to visit within the country.

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