Thailand has been working hard to ensure that its all important travel and tourism industry can restart as soon as possible.
Main picture Nha Trang, Thailand credit Alexsandr Zykov on flickr
The pilot Phuket Sandbox launched on 1st July and was seen by many in the region, and throughout the world, as a test case for reopening travel for international tourists.
The “Land of Smiles” did not stop there however, the Samui Plus programme (covering three islands in Surat Thani province) launched on 15th July and just last week a Phuket Extension launched enabling travellers to visit three other neighbouring areas after their initial 7 days in Phuket.
The openings were part of a wider plan announced by the Thai Prime Minister to open the majority of Thailand to tourists by mid-October this year.
This plan seemed to be at risk of failure as rising Covid-19 cases throughout the country meant increased restrictions being imposed on much of the country and many key tourism destinations including Bangkok.
However in recent days the number of new cases has started to fall, yesterday was the lowest number of new daily cases since 30th July.
In light of this the Bangkok Post is reporting that Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control (DDC), has confirmed that they are looking to ensure reopening of the country can take place under disease control measures known as “Smart Control and Living with Covid-19”, which aim to contain the pandemic so new cases will not overwhelm the public health system.
Any requests would still need to be agreed by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Dr Opas was also reported as stressing that the Thai Prime Minister’s Pledge to reopen Thailand within 120 days (made in June), did not mean that the whole country would be able to reopen to tourists.
It has not all been good news however.
Slow vaccination rates, at least 70% of the local population must have been inoculated prior to launch, and increasing Covid-19 cases have led to doubts if future projects in Chiang Mai and Pattaya could open on time.
As of 19th August just 8.2% of the Thai population (5.71 million) was fully vaccinated against Covid-19. A further 20% (13.88 million) had received their first dose – source OurWorldInData.org
With a population of around 69.7 million people, even getting 70% of the population inoculated (48.8 million) was always going to be a challenge.
Last month health officials in Thailand announced that AstraZeneca had asked to delay delivery of 61 million doses until May 2022. That was despite Thailand being the manufacturing hub for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine production for the region.
Yesterday there was much better news as a government spokesperson announced that the 61 million doses would now arrive before the end of 2021.
“This is good news, it will help create herd immunity faster. This will take pressure off the health care system, help people return to their normal lives and speed up economic recovery,”Anucha Burapachaisri, Thai Government spokesperson
The news that the doses would arrive sooner than expected followed a meeting between Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, and AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot.
The delivery would bring Thailand’s total vaccine supply for 2021 to over 120 million doses, 61 million from AstraZeneca and a combination of 30 million doses of China’s Sinovac and 30 million from Pfizer-BioNTech. An additional 60 million AstraZeneca and 50 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses are also expected to arrive in 2022. [Reuters]
Tourism accounted for almost 20% of Thai GDP prior to the pandemic, in 2020 just under 40 million international tourists arrived in the country. Last year there were just 6.7 arrivals, the vast majority in January and February before the country closed its borders.
This year is likely to see even lower numbers of tourists with even the most optimistic estimates predicting a maximum of 7 million tourists. Many commentators expect the number to be below 5 million.
The lack of tourists has seen many Thai and migrant workers unable to find jobs, many travelling back to the home provinces or country until the situation improves. There were hopes that domestic tourism could help fill the void but increasing internal travel restrictions ended that hope as the Delta variant started to take hold from April this year.
Thailand has so far recorded 1,066,786 cases and 9,562 deaths since the start of the pandemic, although the vast majority of these have been since April this year.
If the country can obtain the promised vaccines on time, and distribute them efficiently, the travel and tourism industry in the country may still have a bright future towards the end of the year as peak season (December to March) approaches.
Tourism may look very different in the future if some form of normality cannot be achieved in the coming months. Earlier this year we reported on the issues that elephant sanctuaries were having feeding their animals during the lockdown.
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