Travel bubbles for Thailand still posing big question marks


Although the Thai government is now committed to allowing initially around 1,000 foreigners a day to enter the country by air, the details still await approval by the Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

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In the first phase, Thailand will be open only to foreigners who “bubble” from partner countries which have shown excellent progress in combatting the pandemic.Initially they will be business executives and medical tourists.They will likely need a business (non “B”) or medical (non “O”) 90 day visa issued by their embassy to avoid confusion at Thai airports about necessary paperwork.An alternative might be an official letter from a Thai government agency.

These groups are easy to monitor domestically as medical tourists will be well known to their respective hospitals and business people will be liaising closely with the Thai company sponsoring their visit.Foreigners with valid work permits will also be allowed into the country, though it is thought that there are very few of them stranded abroad.

Travel bubble countries will include several countries neighboring Thailand as well as China, some Middle East nations and possibly Australia and New Zealand.Those landing will be exempt from quarantining but will need to show health documentation which has yet to be finalized.It is not known whether general health insurance or specifically Covid-19 cover, or both or neither, will be part of the requirements.

Covid-19 cover is available from several Thai insurers for the age range 0-99, but general medical insurance is virtually impossible for those over 75 years unless they have a longstanding policy still in force.Both types of policy typically carry exclusions for pre-existing illnesses or hidden sickness at the time of application.Moreover, sick foreigners needing to come to Thailand for medical treatment will likely be barred from any insurance company acceptance.

If the pilot scheme is successful, the travel bubbles will become larger as ordinary tourists from partner countries only are allowed in small groups.Yet the new customers won’t have unrestricted access to Thailand, but will be offered package deals in particular locations.Phuket is likely to be a popular destination as motorized traffic is easier to monitor on an island than, for example, in Greater Pattaya which has many more access roads.

A bone of contention is likely created by the fact that“bubble” foreigners will not be required toquarantine unlike returning Thais who are kept in isolation for 14 days on arrival.One possible solution is for the travellers to be tracked via a smart phone application.No details have yet appeared, but the chosen technology may need to be more sophisticated than Chana Thai which is currently in use for visits to public places.

The trouble with Chana Thai is that fake apps have appeared to phish the unwary and, separately, the registration device requires extreme vigilance by monitoring staff in malls and restaurants to ensure cooperation by the public.Additionally, there is a growing trend for customers to add their name and number to a sheet of paper rather than to use Chana Thai which is more bothersome.

Now that Thailand is committed to travel bubbles, there will be a period of several months of trial and error before the country can even consider moving on to a hello-all travel and tourism policy in 2021.Patience is the only virtue.