Thailand’s “Test & Go” tourist-entry scheme returns Feb. 1, but this time with a hidden “gotcha” for travelers who thought they understood the deceptively named program.
As it was when introduced in November, Test & Go is a lie. Show up at the airport with just a test and you’ll be denied boarding. And now, not only do you have to book your first night in a quarantine hotel, you have to book one on Day 5 as well.
“There’s no exception for Thais or expatriates. Even if you have a permanent home here, people have to check in at a hotel five days after arrival to take a second RT-PCR test and wait for a negative result before checking out,” said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand governor.
Second PCR tests have been required since Test & Go was suspended for new registrants Dec. 21, but the government has been paying for it. That ends after Feb. 1. Travelers not only have to pay for that second night in a government-certified hotel, they have to pay for the test as well, at inflated prices.
Tourism industry executives rightly point out the additional night and test put an unreasonable, unnecessary burden on arriving tourists, expats and Thais.
Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said PCR tests on Koh Samui cost 2,200 baht each. Thanet Supornsahatrangsi, head of the Chonburi Tourism Council, said a PCR test costs 1,600 in Pattaya, where he is also a city councilman.
For the past six weeks, however, the government has been paying only 1,300 baht for such tests.
Ratchaporn said the price for tourists should be cut to 1,500 baht. Thanet said there should be no mark up. Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, suggested the government should pay for the second test, but only for Thai nationals.
The on-arrival PCR test required under Test & Go has always been paid by arrivals as part of their first-night quarantine-hotel package. If that test comes back negative, the tourist, expat or Thai is free to leave and go anywhere in the country on their own, although installation of the battery-sucking MorChana mobile app supposedly is mandatory.
Just as long-stay tourists and residents uninstall MorChana within days, if not hours, it would be easy to think people could just skip the second test on Day 5, just as people did with the allegedly required antigen test on Day 7 before the program was suspended.
Those antigen tests, however, were self-administered, with the hotel simply giving the tourist the test kit, hoping they follow through. Now the second PCR test, and second hotel night, must be prebooked and proof submitted through Foreign Ministry’s buggy Thailand Pass website.
The TAT’s Yuthasak said that will circumvent the inevitable “fake check-ins” that would occur otherwise.
Thailand Pass currently is offline, hopefully for much-needed upgrades and fine-tuning, and will return Feb. 1.
The additional caveats of Test & Go – which still include mandatory US$50,000 in total health coverage – obviously were imposed as the government is still afraid of the omicron coronavirus variant, which is infecting arriving tourists and returnees at ten times the pre-omicron rate.
In November and December, only 0.3% of arrivals tested positive for Covid-19. Since the New Year’s period, that has jumped to 3.8%.
When Thailand and the world’s omicron waves subside, the additional test and hotel night should be eliminated, Koh Samui’s Ratchaporn said. Instead, the second test should go back to being antigen.
Just before omicron hit, the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration had agreed to require only one test, an antigen test on arrival.