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Thailand’s Nov. 1 Reopening: Devil Will Be in Details

CoE? Insurance? SHA+? Prayut laid out a vision, but bureaucrats may add conditions. How many will determine success

An All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo arrives at Bangkok's Survanabhumi International Airport in June. Japanese travelers will be able to return to Thailand in November without undergoing quarantine under a plan by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)
An All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo arrives at Bangkok's Survanabhumi International Airport in June. Japanese travelers will be able to return to Thailand in November without undergoing quarantine under a plan by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s televised announcement that he would instruct health authorities to consider reopening all of Thailand to fully vaccinated travelers from 10 countries without mandatory quarantine had people in and outside of Thailand rejoicing, but the answer to many unanswered questions could deflate those happy spirits.

Will Certificates of Entry still be required? Will US$100,000 in Covid-19 insurance still be needed. Must prepaid bookings at government-certified hotels still be made? The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration could have answers to those questions at its Tuesday briefing or they could come after a major CCSA meeting on Thursday. Or even later.

But if the answer to those three queries is “yes”, then not all that much will have changed from what people anticipated with the five “sandboxes” previously planned. Prayut described a scenario much like that happening in the United Kingdom for non-“red list” countries: Book a flight, take a coronavirus test, get on a plane.

“We must act quickly, but still cautiously, and not miss the opportunity to entice some of the year-end and new-year holiday season travelers during the next few months to support the many millions of people who earn a living from our tourism, travel and entertainment sectors as well as the many other related sectors,” Prayut said on national television.

Plastic chairs await international arrivals at Suvarnabhumi International Airport where passengers wait to be tested for Covid-19 before being shipped off to quarantine. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)

“I have, therefore, instructed the CCSA and the Ministry of Public Health to urgently consider within this week to allow, as of 1st November, international visitors to enter Thailand without any requirement for quarantine if they are fully vaccinated and arrive by air from low-risk countries.

“All that visitors will need do is to show that they are Covid-free at their time of travel with an RT-PCR test undertaken before they leave their home country, and do a test in Thailand, after which they will be free to move around Thailand in the same way that any Thai citizen can do.”

But, other than not being confined to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin or Pattaya, if Thailand’s “reopening” remains “book a flight, prepay an SHA+ hotel stay, prepay an in-country coronavirus test, pay for a hefty insurance policy and send the entire stack of paperwork to an consulate and wait for a CoE before boarding a plane, those new-year holiday travelers will not be enticed and simply go elsewhere.

While Prayut chairs the CCSA, he no longer wields the absolute power as the dictator he was until 2019 with “god card” in the interim constitution to implement his will. The premier said in June he wanted a full and total reopening by Oct. 15. Within days, Public Health Ministry bureaucrats and provincial governors began adding caveats to that plan. Then came the coronavirus delta variant, which he acknowledged derailed his plan.

Prayut also pushed for an Oct. 1 partial reopening of five provinces under the Phuket “sandbox” model. But, again, a lower-ranked bureaucrat thwarted his desires: Bangkok Gov. Aswin Kwanmuang who pissed in Prayut’s pool by claiming Bangkok would not reopen until he – not the former general – said so. And Aswin wanted Nov. 1. Or even Nov. 15.

So, it’s still possible the Public Health Ministry, which has a bad habit of kowtowing to uber-conservative doctors, or the health “experts” on the CCSA’s committees, will add conditions to Prayut’s broad policy goal.

Keep in mind, Prayut’s exact words weren’t “I have instructed the CCSA and the Ministry of Public Health to allow” quarantine-free entry. They were I have instructed the CCSA and the Ministry of Public Health to urgently consider”.

Likewise, Thai Twitter exploded in celebration when Prayut mentioned that December could see the resumption of alcohol sales and the reopening of bars and clubs. But the PM’s language was even more tenuous.

“By 1st December, we will also consider allowing the consumption of alcoholic beverages in restaurants as well as the operation of entertainment venues.” Prayut will get an earful from health “experts” about a possible explosion of new Covid-19 cases around a drunken New Year. And they’ll be backed up by road-safety advocates who will advocate how many lives will be saved with dry new year’s parties. And of course the holy men in saffron hate alcohol and will add their support.

No booze and bars until January? Very possible.

However, whether alcohol can be sold legally or not, or whether bars can even open, is becoming a moot point as more and more operators simply ignore the law, often with the (paid) support of the police, which are allowing beers to be sold in beer glasses as long as the owners fill the tip jar.

In the face of such abject corruption, the CCSA might as well make legal what already is happening.

The only thing certain is that we won’t have long to wait to see how much devil is hiding in the details.

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