Thailand was one of the first countries outside of China to report cases of COVID-19 and was quickly added to the UK government lists of countries where returning visitors would have to self-isolate if exhibiting any symptoms.
Early concerns on the risk of a severe outbreak in Thailand were not seen however as the country dealt with the risk and closed the borders.
In this article we look at how Thailand have dealt with COVID-19 and the impact on tourists and tourism.
This article was updated on 3rd September.
We have looked at the response to COVID-19 from a number of South East Asia countries and the impact on tourism. You can view our other posts by clicking the links below.
Don’t forget to check out our Covid-19 Travel Insurance Guide if you are planning to travel or book your next trip.
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Very early in the pandemic in China, Thailand was considered to be especially vulnerable to the outbreak with large numbers of visitors from China, including from Wuhan. Densely populated cities were thought to be especially vulnerable. Indeed the first Covid-19 case outside of China was recorded in Thailand.
Some people have been sceptical that the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths in Thailand, along with a number of other countries, were accurate. Protection of the highly important tourist industry was cited as the main reason.
However the overall death rates in these countries has not seen rises that would correlate with more cases than reported, so the official figures seem to be robust.
Thailand has reported 3,575 cases of which 3,384 have been recorded as recovered and 59 deaths (2nd October). The latest statistics are available on our COVID-19 and South East Asia page.
The Thai Response
China reported the outbreak in Wuhan on 31st December 2019 and just three days later Thai airports had begun the screening of passengers from the city and an emergency operations centre was set up on the following day. However on 13th January Thailand confirmed its first case, someone who had travelled from China. The first report local transmitted case did not appear until 31st January.
We were actually in Thailand during February, as the realisation grew worldwide that the pandemic could not be contained and was going to become an issue for everyone and not a regional issue. By 29th February, the day we began our journey home, Thailand had 42 reported cases and no deaths (the first death was the following day). At the time the UK government had stated that people returning from Thailand should take additional care and monitor health. Read my account of our experience in the article Travelling in Thailand at the Start of the Covid Pandemic
Numbers continued to be low until numbers increased in Bangkok during March. These were blamed on a number of local clusters which included a number of infections traced back to a nightclub and the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium following a Muay Thai event on 6th March.
People arriving from high-risk countries were initially only encouraged to self-quarantine and the first travel restrictions were not imposed until 5th March when four countries were designated as “disease infected zones” and a quarantine imposed while people arriving from other high-risk countries were placed under observation. travel restrictions were increased further on 19th March when medical certificates and health insurance, for non-Thai’s, were required for international arrivals.
By 21st March all schools and non-essential businesses were ordered to shut. On 26th March the Thai government issued an emergency decree, which banned all public gatherings. A nighttime curfew from 10.00pm to 4.00am was imposed on 3rd April and international flights, except those repatriating Thai citizens abroad, were then banned on 4th April.
There were concerns that the closure of businesses in major cities and tourist areas, especially Bangkok, resulted in many people travelling back to their families in other areas of the country, risking the spread of infection further.
Contact tracing was implemented very early as mobile teams travelled throughout the country to conduct mass tests of people who were deemed to be at risk due to contact with an infected person.
Wearing of masks has been increasingly common place in recent years in major cities throughout Thailand, especially Bangkok, due to air pollution. It has also increased in rural areas where burning fields to prepare for the next season has become more common also affecting air quality. The general use of masks became increasingly seen as an important prevention method throughout Thailand. Some reports say that Thailand had one of the highest rates of mask wearing in its population and those who were not wearing masks were often reminded by members of the public.
The emergency decree has been extended and amended and is in place up to and including 31st July which restricts entry to high risk areas, prohibits the hoarding of essentials, bans public gatherings and disseminating false information.
Those over 70 years and under 5 years, plus anyone with pre-existing medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, respiratory diseases and lung diseases are encouraged not to leave their home except for essential purposes. Exemptions include buying groceries, conducting business and going to a hospital or police station.
Authorities are very strict in enforcing regulations and a number of people including foreign nationals have been arrested and fined or sentenced to jail for breaching lockdown restrictions.
Smoking cigarettes has been linked to the spread of Covid-19 by the Thai Department of Disease Control and banned smoking in public with a 5,000 baht fine for non-compliance.
The Current Situation
Thailand is currently undergoing a phased relaxation of lockdown measures although these do differ between provinces. These measures may change at very short notice dependent on local Covid-19 conditions. The nighttime curfew was lifted on 15th June, following the easing of times, allowing a number of business sectors to re-open although with social distancing and the use of face masks in place.
Most public spaces and services have re-opened although there are social distancing measures in place. Many restaurants, shops, malls and other public locations have a registration system on entry and exit, primarily through a smart phone app. Not all entertainment venues have re-opened either due to the lack of tourists or local restrictions.
Many hotels and accommodation have re-opened but there are still many closed. Most will require temperature checks on arrival, a travel history declaration and will ask about Covid-19 symptoms.
Thailand had gone 50 days without a confirmed local transmission of Covid-19. However on 14th July Thailand amended their entry rules for foreigners after there were two new confirmed cases that had come from abroad that had possible exposure to the public in Thailand resulting to more than 400 people being required to self-isolate.
Both of the confirmed cases were exempt from the mandatory 14- day quarantine as they were diplomatic family members and aircrew.
Short-term business visits and guests of the state who had been allowed entry to Thailand have now been suspended. Diplomats and their families now need to enter government supervised quarantine.
Some people within Thailand have criticised the delaying in lifting restrictions due to the absence of new internal cases within the country.
Thailand has now gone 100 days since the last locally-transmitted COVID-19 case, with the last case reported on 26th May. All recent cases have involved people who have entered the country, usually legally as part of the exemption list.
However there is concern that the recent surge in cases in Myanmar, especially a number near the Thai border, could cause a spike in Thailand. Border patrols have been increased and instructed to take more “stringent” measures. Three areas that had temporary permission for border crossings have been closed for 15 days from 3rd September.
Many Thai’s suddenly found themselves without work as large sectors closed down. The Thai government has said that jobs of 8.4 million workers across the country are at risk. The tourist industry, accounting for around 4.4 million people, was stopped almost overnight with estimates that tourism revenue may drop by 80% compared to 2019. Even though restrictions are being lifted, the absence of foreign tourists means that recovery will take much longer for those reliant on tourists.
The Thai government has provided a package of around 400 billion baht (more than £10 billion) to support business and individuals. This included cash support for qualifying people not receiving Social Security, preferential special loans and relief measures on loans.
On 23rd July The Guardian reported that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) expected visitor numbers to Thailand to be down to less than 25% than in 2019 (around 40 million).
The Bangkok Post reported on 1st September that the Bank of Thailand has warned that the tourist industry in Thailand will face greater risks in 2021 if tourist restrictions continue.
Tourism contributed around 20% of GDP in 2019 as 40 million people visited the country. The Bank of Thailand has predicted that visitors in 2020 will only amount to 6.7 million and will only reach 12 million in 2021.
Thailand is included on the FCO exempt list allowing travel back to Thailand, although the Thais have very limited exemptions allowing foreign travellers into the country and they usually need to enter government supervised quarantine for 14 days.
Returnees from Thailand to England are also required to self-isolate for 14 days.
Within Thailand, travel is now allowed although not all regional airports are open and there is additional travel documentation required when flying internally. You may be required to enter quarantine for 14 days if you travel overland by road or rail between provinces. Non-Thais may find that access to public sites or transport is restricted.
There has been discussion regarding allowing long-term tourists to return to Thailand. The reported plan would involve tourists flying directly into Phuket where they would need to quarantine for 14 days and take at least 2 COVID-19 tests.
Once they had completed 30 days on Phuket they would be permitted to travel elsewhere in Thailand once they pass a 3rd COVID-19 test.
There has been no confirmation that this plan will come into play and there have been reports of having some opposition in the Thai authorities fearful of another outbreak.
Talk to us
Do you have any experience of how Thailand or other South-East Asian countries reacted to COVID-19 or where you in country at the time of the outbreak. Let us know your thoughts and experiences.
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