Thailand eases entry requirements despite omicron threat
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand will ease some entry requirements for foreign visitors as it balances a rising number of coronavirus cases with the need to rebuild its pandemic-damaged economy, the government announced Wednesday.
Beginning March 1, fully vaccinated visitors must take a RT-PCR test on arrival and spend their first night at an approved hotel while awaiting the results, but will no longer need to take a second RT-PCR test and spend another night at a hotel on their fifth day, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration said.
Instead, visitors arriving under the “Test & Go” program will need to take a self-administered rapid antigen test on the fifth day and report the result on a cellphone app.
The center, headed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, also reduced the minimum required health insurance coverage for COVID-19 treatment from $50,000 to $20,000 for each foreign entrant.
Spokesperson Taweesin Visanuyothin said the changes took into consideration the need to boost the economy even as cases of the omicron coronavirus variant rise. Thailand relies on tourism for as much as 20% of its GDP.
A total of 21,232 new confirmed cases and 39 deaths were announced Wednesday, although the number does not include many results found with antigen tests.
Thailand has reported 2.77 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic started in 2020. Nearly 550,000 cases, or around 20% of the total, were reported during the first two months of this year.
Taweesin said the death toll compared to the number of confirmed cases this year is as low as 0.19%, and that was one of the main factors behind the decision to ease entry requirements. Also, most new COVID-19 cases have been found among local residents, not foreign tourists.
There are currently 173,605 active cases, including 882 categorized as serious, that are being treated in hospitals and field hospitals.
In addition, there are 21,120 cases in community isolation centers and 47,373 in home isolation registered in the public health system..
Bangkok, the hardest-hit province, will add more beds for patients with mild symptoms, Gov. Aswin Kwanmuang said.
Unvaccinated travelers can also enter Thailand if they are quarantined in approved hotels for 10 days.
Almost 500,000 visitors entered Thailand by air from the beginning of the year through Feb. 21, Taveesin said.