Thailand plans to fully reopen to foreign visitors in four months, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha promised Wednesday, citing the urgent need to save the kingdom’s ailing tourism industry.
The coronavirus pandemic has hammered Thailand’s tourism sector amid border closures and strict hotel quarantine measures.
The impact has spilled over into different sectors – hotels, restaurants, bars and local transport operators – and the country’s ongoing battle against a third wave has pushed local businesses to demand more government aid.
Tourism previously accounted for nearly 20 percent of Thailand’s national income.
“So I set myself the goal of being able to declare Thailand fully open within 120 days from today, and for tourist centers that are ready to do so even faster,” Prime Minister Prayut said in a statement. televised address Wednesday evening.
He said the only exception would be “if a really serious situation develops”.
“I know there are some risks involved in this decision… but I think when we consider people’s economic needs, now is the time for us to take that calculated risk,” he said.
To do this, Thailand’s top priority is to get at least one photo for everyone in the country before the reopening, he said.
Prayut expects 50 million Thais to be vaccinated by October with a goal of at least 10 million per month.
“We cannot wait until a time when everyone is fully vaccinated with two injections to open up the country or when the world is virus free,” he said.
Thailand has recorded nearly 205,000 infections and 1,525 deaths.
Prayut’s administration has been under pressure on its economic management as Thailand experiences its worst performance since the Asian economic crisis of 1997.
The government has also been criticized for its slow rollout of the vaccine, which to date has seen around 7% of the population inoculated with a first dose before the program was halted this week due to a lack of supply.
A so-called “Phuket sandbox” has also been launched – allowing vaccinated tourists to enter the country without quarantine – but mixed messages from authorities on the program have left some potential visitors reluctant to purchase flights.
© 2021 AFP