More nimble Covid curbs are needed

Reports that the government is considering scrapping the Thailand Pass for returning residents is welcome news as it will eliminate another travel restriction.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Thursday that the ministry would ask the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), which makes decisions on easing coronavirus restrictions, to consider d cancel Thai pass requirement for locals.

Mr Anutin said once the pandemic is downgraded to endemic, the Thailand Pass may no longer be needed.

As a result, overseas Thai students, workers and entrepreneurs can expect fewer bureaucratic hurdles before returning home, making it easier for them to enter the country.

However, why the government, which has been desperate to revive tourism, did not include foreign visitors – especially those who are fully vaccinated – in this plan remains a mystery. The tourism industry has constantly asked the authority to withdraw the Thailand Pass.

The Thailand Pass system is a platform launched last year to allow visitors and travelers to complete required immigration forms. The system is designed to collect vaccination and travel data for required documents through an online platform.

However, the process of obtaining the pass has been criticized as time-consuming and also a disincentive to travel, especially group visits on short breaks.

The system itself was time consuming and off-putting. After submitting the online registration, visitors have to wait a few days for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to approve and send the QR codes to visitors.

Questions about the practicality of the Thailand Pass have been raised.

So far, the CCSA has eased many travel restrictions such as removing mandatory quarantine and some mandatory RT-PCR tests for fully vaccinated visitors.

Relaxed entry regulations have helped boost tourism. The country received 19,727 tourists on May 1, followed by 15,439 tourists and 14,108 tourists on May 2 and 3, respectively, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Those numbers have risen from around 10,000 to 12,000 arrivals a day in the past month as vaccinated tourists are no longer required to show Covid test results.

But the country needs to ease travel restrictions even further. The government and the TAT should bear in mind that neighboring countries in the region are also in competition to attract tourists.

Clear examples are Malaysia and Singapore. In April, Singapore eased entry restrictions. Under its relaxed restrictions, travelers need only pre-register online and download a tracking app a few days before entering the country.

Malaysia this month scrapped Covid-19 testing for all incoming travelers who are fully vaccinated or under the age of 12, and made it optional to wear masks when outdoors and check in before entering various local. Travel insurance will no longer be mandatory for travelers entering the country.

Thai authorities seem to be lagging behind. For Thailand, foreign tourists, even if fully vaccinated, must still present proof of insurance worth at least USD 10,000 from a list of approved providers.

Despite the relaxation of entry rules earlier this month, the Thailand Pass remains for everyone. Whether travelers are vaccinated or not, anyone entering the country must, for now, have a QR code that the system provides to show authorities, making the entry process cumbersome.

The government, especially the CCSA, must accept the reality that the Covid situation no longer requires strict border control as in previous years.

The number of Covid cases has decreased and most of the patients are locals, especially unvaccinated elderly people and risk groups, not foreign tourists.

That said, removing restrictions does not mean letting our guard down. Instead of sticking to impractical entry rules, the government should have used digital innovations such as a digital passport for vaccines and tracing apps to provide convenience to visitors.

The updated Mor Chana mobile app tracks travelers who have entered the kingdom, but authorities have failed to popularize it.

Reports emerged in November of authorities spending days tracing 272 travelers from eight Covid-prone countries in southern Africa who had entered the country.

Over Christmas there was a report from the authority calling on the police to carry out a frantic search for a tourist who evaded Covid-19 regulations.

The government as well as the CCSA must be more agile and adopt new innovations for Covid measures to ease travel restrictions. Sticking to the same inconvenient entry rules like the Thailand Pass can jeopardize Thailand’s tourism competitiveness.

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