Pattaya and Chiang Mai may again become tourist “sandboxes” Thursday when the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration considers relaxing coronavirus restrictions.
In addition to restarting the “Test & Go” tourist-entry scheme as early as Feb. 1, the CCSA will vote on proposals to reinstate “sandbox” status for Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Khon Kaen and Samut Prakan provinces.
The four provinces were among 16 that lost “sandbox” status Dec. 21 when the CCSA over-reacted and reimposed strict entry controls and other restrictions in response to the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant.
On Jan. 4, the CCSA then raised the country’s Covid-19 “alert level” to four, extended the suspension of Test & Go, reduced alcohol-sales hours for restaurants and recoded 29 provinces as “orange” coronavirus-control zones.
Tomorrow the CCSA is expected to drop the alert level to three. No mention of re-extending booze-selling hours to 11 p.m. has been rumored, although the CCSA said some restrictions would be left up to provincial governors.
Test & Go allows fully vaccinated tourists from specified countries to do only one night in quarantine and take two PCR-RT tests Covid-19 tests within the first week.
Sandboxes allow those from other countries to arrive in Phuket and other sandbox areas and leave their hotel, but remain in the area for one week.
Suspending both programs in December crippled Thailand’s effort to revive its international tourism industry. Phuket was left as the only sandbox until January, when areas in Surat Thani, Phangnga and Krabi were added.
Chonburi, which includes Pattaya, has been desperate to restart its sandbox program as, without Test & Go, no one has been arriving in the city. However, the province – led by Pattaya – has been the epicenter of the omicron wave with more cases than anywhere for most of this month.
The outbreak appears to waning in Chonburi, however, with case numbers falling for most the past week. On Wednesday, the province reported 506 confirmed cases with 256 of those in Banglamung District, which includes Pattaya.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul admitted omicron hasn’t been as bad as he feared. While case numbers have soared – Thailand reported 7,122 confirmed cases and 12 deaths on Wednesday, although there are thousands of more unofficial and unreported cases – hospitalizations and deaths have remained low and in control.
Dr. Yong Poovorawan, head of the Center of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine of Chulalongkorn University, said that omicron caused about 90% of Covid-19 infections over the past month and likely would replace all other variants this month.