Despite the current high daily numbers in COVID cases, Thailand said yesterday, January 20, that the ‘Test and Go’ entry scheme for tourists would be reinstated on February 1st, in an effort to save Thailand’s embattled tourism economy.
The scheme was halted a month ago as the Omicron variant and rising doubts about vaccination efficacy spread over the world.
The Public Health Minister of Thailand, Anutin Charnvirakul, has been very vocal about his support for the resumption of Test and Go. Early this week, Charnvirakul, along with the Tourism and Sports Ministry requested the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to begin registration for Test and Go by February. The request was approved two days later.
According to a report, the ‘Test and Go’ scheme requires tourists to test upon arrival and again five days later, while agreeing to have their locations recorded.
‘Test and Go’ to boost Thailand’s tourism industry
The update attempts to revitalize Thailand’s tourism industry, which has been severely affected by the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, leisure travel and tourism accounted for 21.9 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019, with a record 40 million tourists flocking to its gorgeous beaches and ancient sites. However, tourist counts have decreased by an astonishing 99.5 percent since then.
Last year’s tourists to Thailand were around 0.5% of the pre-pandemic total, which touched a high of over 40 million in 2019.
Thailand’s “Sandbox” will be expanded to include Pattaya and Koh Chang, two of the most popular beach destinations in the east of Thailand, according to the update.
The news about the resumption of Test and Go entry scheme will be appreciated by tourists who had a glimpse of travel hope in early November 2021. During this time, Thailand allowed vaccinated tourists from 61 countries to cross its borders without being quarantined, only to halt the program on December 20th, following the first confirmed omicron infection.
According to reports, the new version of Test and Go is available to all tourists and is not restricted to certain nations. Until the regulation changes on Feb. 1, all passengers, whether vaccinated or not, were forced to quarantine for a minimum of seven days.
The mandatory isolation and quarantine, which came the same month that British Airways suspended all flights to Bangkok until the fall of 2022, was another setback for Thailand’s tourist industry.
What is the new Test and Go entry scheme
The new Test and Go entry scheme now requires international visitors to book a hotel on day 1 and again on day 5 of their stay — as well as undergo a PCR test on each day.
They must stay in their hotel room after each test until the results are negative.
The plan, which requires vaccinated travellers to agree to stay in a single place for a week, is presently in effect in Phuket and Koh Samui.
Authorities have also extended the hours for restaurants to sell alcohol until 11 p.m., rather than 9 p.m., although bars and nightclubs will stay closed.
These updates on the Test and Go policy follow Thailand’s recent announcement of a 300 baht (AU$12) tourism tax.
The charge adds to Thailand’s existing admission restrictions, which include pre-payment for COVID-19 testing, hotel lodging or quarantine, and having insurance with COVID-19 treatment coverage of at least US$50,000 (AUD$69,393).
Requirements for Test and Go
Tourists coming to Thailand will need the following:
- Proof of hotel booking for Day 1 and Day 5 in Thailand.
- Confirmed payment or proof of booking for a SHA+ approved hotel.
- Prepayment for the two RT-PCR tests.
- Certificate of vaccination or vaccine passport.
- Proof of a negative result from an RT-PCR test issued no more than 72 hours before departure.
- Thailand Pass QR code.
Go to the official website run by the Department of Consular Affairs for the Thailand Pass QR code. The Thailand Pass is absolutely free. Tourists should watch out for other sites asking for payment.
Critics oppose new Test and Go scheme
Critics opposing the new scheme claim that there appears to be no necessity for tourists to stay in one region, leaving the door to situations in which tourists may easily go from one province to another, potentially transmitting the now prevalent Omicrom variant as they travel.
Pichet Panapong, Phuket province’s deputy governor, suggested that tourists should not be permitted to mix with the residents, saying:
“For the proposed sealed route, if tourists need to go out, they may visit areas where there are no other people, like an empty beach, via a sealed route. But this arrangement must be supervised by a SHA Plus Manager. Some tourists with no symptoms might forget they are infected and visit markets or shopping malls. This is worrying. I think the best thing to do is to keep them isolated. A sealed route may be considered in some cases only.”
However, many individuals are perplexed by the fact that in between both examinations, persons are free to go wherever they choose. Test and Go does not need travelers to remain at the same hotel on days one and five, or even in the same province. Tourists can arrive in Bangkok on the first day and be in Chiang Mai by the fifth day for their second test and necessary hotel stay. It is unknown if the government would consider infections discovered on day 5 to be imported.
Tourism operators want the cost of PCR testing for tourists to be reduced when Test and Go resumes
Following the CCSA’s decision yesterday to reintroduce Test and Go, with certain amendments, on February 1, tourist businesses are pressing the government to make PCR testing more affordable. The updated Test and Go entry scheme now requires international tourists to book a hotel on day 1 and again on day 5 of their stay — as well as undergo a PCR test on each day. They must stay in their hotel room after each test until the results are negative.
The new rules have tourism operators worried that the increased expenditures, particularly the second PCR test, may deter travelers. According to Ratchaporn Poolsawadee of the Koh Samui Tourism Association, PCR testing on the island cost 2,200 baht. He wants the price reduced to 1,500 baht since it may be a barrier to younger people traveling on a budget. He is also hopeful that the administration would finally repeal the mandate.
“When the viral situation is under control in 1-2 months, the government should relax the rule by requiring just one PCR test and allowing an ATK for the second test.”
Meanwhile, Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi of the Thai Hotels Association said that before Test and Go can resume, officials must establish a method to meet the new testing standards. She, too, proposes that the second test be skipped if the Covid condition improves.
Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of Thailand’s Tourism Authority, stated unequivocally that the new restrictions apply to all tourists arriving from other countries, including Thai nationals and expat residents.
“There’s no exception for Thais or expatriates. Even if you have a permanent home here, people have to check in at a hotel five days after arrival to take a second PCR test and wait for a negative result before checking out.”
Marisa, on the other hand, believes the government should subsidize the expense of the second exam for Thais and foreign employees, considering that they will have to pay for another hotel stay despite living in Thailand.
Current Covid situation in Thailand
Before tourists get too enthusiastic about the idea of full moon parties, keep in mind that the country is still not back to normal. While the government has just extended the hours for restaurants to sell alcohol until 11 p.m., bars and nightclubs will stay closed for the foreseeable future. Not without cause, either.
Since the start of the pandemic, Thailand has had 2,344,933 infections and 21,968 fatalities. Although, as the government prepares to relax travel restrictions in February, it’s evident that Thai officials, at the very least, feel the tide is beginning to change.
The Thai Public Health Ministry said this morning that Thailand recorded another large daily case count yesterday, with 8,640 new cases in the previous 24 hours.
This is a modest increase above the previous daily count of 8,129 new cases recorded on Thursday morning.