Thailand makes U-turn on COVID vaccination rule for visitors
Health minister says checking vaccinations was inconvenient and a panel of health experts had agreed to withdraw the new rule.
Thailand has revoked an entry policy announced two days ago requiring visitors to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, its health minister said, citing sufficient immunisation levels in China and globally.
On Monday, Anutin Charnvirakul said checking evidence of vaccinations was inconvenient and a panel of health experts had agreed to withdraw the new rule, which was announced on Saturday by aviation authorities ahead of an expected deluge of visitors from China, where COVID cases have surged.
Charnvirakul said those not vaccinated would also be granted entry without restriction.
“Showing proof of vaccination would be cumbersome and inconvenient, and so the group’s decision is that it is unnecessary,” Anutin told reporters.
Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said there had been discussions over entry requirements but the issue had been resolved.
One of Asia’s most popular travel destinations, Thailand is enjoying an influx of visitors during its first peak season since the removal last year of tight entry restrictions that had caused its tourism sector to collapse.
In November, it recorded 1.75 million visitors, quadruple the number for the whole of last year when flights and foreign arrivals were limited.
Visitors from China
Chinese visitors have been crucial for Thailand, accounting for about a quarter of its annual visitors before the pandemic. Anutin said the government was now expecting seven to 10 million Chinese visitors, compared with an earlier estimate of five million.
The first flight from China arrived in Thailand on Monday, the first of a group of 3,465 passengers expected on the first day.
“We’re very excited to come back to Thailand. We have been waiting for three years already,” said Wang Zhenyin, 39.
“Before the start of COVID, we came here every year. And this time I take my family to come here.”
On Sunday, Beijing lifted a mandatory quarantine for arrivals from abroad imposed when the pandemic began three years ago. The move is expected to unleash large pent-up demand for outbound travel.
But so far, few flights have been restored. On Monday, a check of arrivals at regional airports found only a handful of flights coming from China. The largest share was travelling to South Korea.
The about-face on the vaccine rule follows similar policy U-turns by Thailand during the pandemic that have caused widespread confusion among travellers about its entry requirements.
Thailand will still require foreigners to show evidence of health insurance coverage for COVID if their next destination requires a negative pre-entry test, Charnvirakul said.
Thailand’s tourism authority is expecting arrival numbers for last year to have exceeded 11.5 million, just over a quarter of the record of nearly 40 million in pre-pandemic 2019, who spent about 1.91 trillion baht ($55.2bn).