Curfews are shorter. Quarantines are shorter. This list of closed businesses is shorter. But the wait for Thailand to reopen to foreign tourism and a sense of normalcy got longer with a string of decisions made by Thailand health officails Monday.
No surprises emerged from the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration meeting, as all the announced relaxations of conronavirus-control restrictions had been leaked earlier. And they’re not technically official until rubber-stamped by the Cabinet and published in the Royal Gazette. But the meeting did put the final nail in hail-Mary hopes that Thailand would get back to business and live up to its leaders promises that they were ready to “live with Covid-19”.
The fact that an overnight curfew remains – albeit 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. – and that the Emergency Decree was extended for not one, but two, months, shows that they aren’t. Little has changed. The sidewalks still must be rolled up by 9 p.m., there’s still no booze to be had in any restaurant and bars and clubs remain closed. Schools do as well, at least until November.
And for those on the outside wanting to get back in without having to go through the ordeal of obtaining cumbersome and expensive Certificates of Entry and mandatory hotel or island quarantine, the CCSA meeting brought little solace.
Three months after the Phuket “sandbox” was supposed to open to fully vaccinated international arrivals with the promise of spending only a week in “paradise” without full quarantine, the promise finally has come (partly) true. Despite only 0.28 percent of all “sandboxers” testing positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Phuket, the government waited three months to reduce the required stay to one week, instead of two.
The delay was blamed on the stratospheric rise in national Covid-19 cases since July due to the delta variant – and the rise to an average 240 new cases a day in Phuket – but the real reason for keeping foreigners and returning Thailand on the island (and now Surat Thani, Phangnga and Krabi islands) for two weeks was money. Force the foreigners and returning Thais to spend money in areas desperate for tourism revenue.
It’s clear, however, that foreign tourists and expats saw through the ruse. The sandbox drew only a third of the arrivals it was expected to, due in large part to price gouging for tests and hotels. The government and big hotel chains were the only ones to benefit from the shakedown. Phuket’s mom-and-pops are no better off three months after the sandbox opened.
Starting Oct. 1, “island quarantine” – or regular, “stay in your hotel” quarantine in every other city – will be only seven days for fully vaccinated visitors who can prove they got two jabs (or one Johnson & Johnson shot), a far-more-palatable prospect for those who refused to do two weeks.
Seven-day quarantine will apply to the visitors who have certificates of their reception of full vaccination. But they still must pay through the nose for two pointless RT-PCR tests, first when they arrive and then six or seven days afterwards.
Quarantine will be 10 days for the visitors by air and by water who do not have a Covid-19 vaccination certificate. They will be tested for the virus upon arrival and on Day 8 or 9.
However, 14-day quarantine will continue for arrivals by land. They will undergo two RT-PCR tests upon arrival and on Day 12 or 13.
The new quarantine periods apply to the entire country. So, for those who don’t want to spend a week in Phuket “paradise” – where bars are closed, alcohol is banned and a curfew in place.
The shorter quarantine was, basically, a consolation prize for literally starving Thais desperate to restart their tourism work and for those overseas hoping to return without being exploited by quarantines and overpriced, prepaid expenses.
The CCSA said November will see the opening of ten provinces, starting with Bangkok, Chonburi, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chiang Mai – provided they can meet certain milestones.
CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin said some districts in the 10 provinces would be allowed to resume their tourist services because their Covid-19 situations were better than those of their respective provinces. The districts were defined as “blue zones”.
The reopening set between Nov 1 and 30 was approved for Bangkok, Krabi and Phangnga (entire provinces); and Chiang Mai (Muang, Mae Rim, Mae Taeng and Doi Tao districts), Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin and Nong Kae), Phetchaburi (Cha Am), Chonburi (Banglamung District, which includes Pattaya and Jomtien Beach; and Sattahip’s Najomtien and Bang Saray subdistricts); Ranong (Koh Phayam), Loei (Chiang Khan) and Buri Ram (Muang).
The ten provinces are either major provinces or the provinces where spending by foreign tourists normally formed at least 15 percent of their tourism-related revenue.
From Dec. 1-30, 20 more provinces will follow suit. They are Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Lamphun, Phrae, Nong Khai, Sukhothai, Phetchabun, Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya, Samut Prakan, Trat, Rayong, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, Phatthalung, Songkhla, Yala and Narathiwat.
From Jan 1 next year onwards, the reopening will happen in 13 border provinces: Surin, Sa Kaeo, Chanthaburi, Tak, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Bung Kan, Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Nan, Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi and Satun, the CCSA said.
All of this, of course, depends on each province or district fully vaccinating 70 percent of its adult population, and on both new cases and hospitalizations falling “substantially”, although there has been no metric released for what level both would have to fall to.
Thailand has only fully vaccinated 27 percent of its population, although levels are higher in Bangkok, Phuket and other provinces set to reopen. Yet, because the vaccine used to vaccinate the populous – mostly the Chinese-made vaccine from Sinovac Biotech – has provden so ineffective against the delta variant, the government is being forced to administer booster shots.
Until then, it’s more of the same for people struggling under the continued coronavirus restrictions.
The CCSA resolved to extend the state of emergency until Nov. 30, maintained curfew for 15 more days but allowed live-music performances – but not alcohol – at restaurants from Oct 1.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said the CCSA also endorsed the reopening of nurseries, libraries, museums, and learning centers – all up to 75 percent capacity – manicure shops, tattoo shops, health parlors, massage parlors and spas – for up to two hours per patron – indoor stadiums (without crowds), cinemas and eateries with live bands (where all players must be masked except the singer). It did not allow the reopening of exhibition and convention centers.
It also did not open anything related to nightlife, as the curfew will be maintained for at least another 15 days, from Oct. 1, from 10 p.m.
That allows shopping centers and convenience stores to operate until 9 p.m.. Open-air stadiums can welcome spectators to 25 percent of their seating capacities, pending orders from provincial governors.