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Thais Demand Cowering Generals Reopen Borders to Tourists

Overwhelming majority in new poll says government being too cautious about Covid-19 risk

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Even as Thailand’s leaders continue to cower over the pandemic sweeping the rest of the world, Thais are losing patience with their overcautious leaders, telling the nation’s tourism agency it’s time to reopen the border to tourists.

Results of a new survey conducted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand found that 76 percent of respondents want the government to launch so-called “travel bubbles” immediately. Only 15.6 percent want to see the borders remained closed.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and nearly all those under him, however, continue to pursue the futile strategy of keeping Thailand’s coronavirus cases at zero rather than accept and manage the outbreaks that occur. The result has been a border through which only handfuls of foreigners are being allowed to squeeze through, usually under harrowing conditions.

Currently, fewer than 500 people – Thais included – are being allowed back into the country. Medical tourists may start to arrive next month. And, in September, the first foreigners may be allowed in, but again with numerous expensive and grueling Covid-19 tests, heinous insurance requirements and limits on their movement inside the country.

None of that will be palatable to all but the most hardcore tourists.

Prayut doubled-down on his closed-borders philosophy in a news conference Friday, stressing that Thailand must implement a “vigorous arrivals-screening” process.

He said the countries that could participate in any travel bubble must be “carefully considered” and must mutually agree with Thailand’s public-health measures.

Prayut’s caution is being fueled by xenophobic advisors in- and outside of government, such as widely quoted Chulalongkorn University Dr. Thira Woratanarat, who, since the beginning of the pandemic, has spread false information about the virus and demonized foreigners on his Facebook page.

“Look at what his happening around the world. Accepting foreigners into the country is risky,” Thira wrote Monday morning, repeating a theme from a Friday post, which claims that 14 days is not long enough for quarantine. “We must close the borders for a long time because the global plague is still going. If the state can’t afford to quarantine people and follow (safety procedures) effectively, there is a high chance disaster will occur.”

Fortunately, the majority of the public – millions of them unemployed by the collapse of the tourism industry that generates up to 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product – aren’t falling for the scaremongering.

That TAT poll found 68.7 percent of people want to see more than 2,000 tourists allowed in each day – the highest threshold suggested by TAT’s researchers – and 75 percent think a country participating in a travel bubble has to have controlled its epidemic for 45 days or less.

The government has said it wants countries to be clear of the virus for 60 days, double the World Health Organization recommendation.

TAT polled 3,000 Thais and tourism operators in eight tourism provinces on their thoughts about restarting foreign tourism. More than 86 percent said it was time to start reviving local economies.

Of course, people still want health precautions, but not as extreme as the government is enforcing. At least 75 percent of respondents said it would be enough to ensure a traveler hasn’t been in a hot zone for 14 days, passed a coronavirus test within 72 hours of flying and underwent temperature and respiratory checks on arrival.

Whether the government will listen to their people’s wishes is the questions. The former junta bosses’ record on listening caring about public sentiment has been pathetic.

TAT Gov. Yuthasak Supasorn acknowledged that public opinion has changed drastically and now diverges widely from the former generals keeping the borders closed. Earlier surveys done by other state enterprises found tourists were still reluctant to reopen the borders.

The TAT said it is working with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and Office of Insurance Commission about creating less burdensome insurance requirements for incoming foreigners, with prices less than 1,000 baht.

Current health and coronavirus insurance coverage, which must be paid annually and carry no deductible, costs between 31,000 and 77,000 baht depending on the applicant’s age and health condition.