Thailand U-turns on COVID vaccination rule for visitors

January 9, 2023 - 4:25 PM
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Passengers from China's Xiamen arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport after China reopens its borders amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Bangkok, Thailand, January 9, 2023. (Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

Thailand on Monday rescinded a policy announced at the weekend requiring visitors to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, its health minister said, citing sufficient immunisation levels in China and globally.

Anutin Charnvirakul said requiring visitors to show evidence of vaccination was inconvenient and a panel of experts had resolved that it was unnecessary as enough vaccinations had been administered globally.

Anutin said visitors not vaccinated would also be granted entry without restriction.

The country’s aviation authority had on Saturday announced the restrictions, effective Monday, ahead of an expected deluge of visitors from China, where COVID-19 cases have surged.

“Showing proof of vaccination would be cumbersome and inconvenient, and so the group’s decision is that it is unnecessary,” Anutin told reporters.

The first flight of Chinese visitors since the pandemic started arrived in Thailand on Monday, carrying an initial group of an expected 3,465 passengers on the first day, Anutin said.

One of Asia’s most popular travel destinations, Thailand is enjoying an influx of tourists during its first peak season since the removal last year of tight entry restrictions.

In November, it recorded 1.75 million visitors, quadruple the number received for the whole of last year when flights and foreign arrivals were limited.

Anutin said Thailand was now expecting 7-10 million Chinese visitors, compared to an earlier estimate of 5 million.

“This is a good sign for Thailand‘s tourism sector … the country’s economy will recover rapidly. After we’ve been devastated by COVID for the last three years,” he said.

Thailand‘s tourism authority is expecting arrival numbers for last year to have exceeded 11.5 million, just over a quarter of the record of nearly 40 million in pre-pandemic 2019, who spent about 1.91 trillion baht ($55.17 billion).

Thailand will still require foreigners whose next destination is a country requiring a negative pre-entry COVID-19 test to show they have health insurance covering treatment for the disease, Anutin said.

—Reporting by Napat Wesshasartar and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Davies