The government’s top disease control committee, Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), has indicated that two more categories will receive priority over general tourists in the gradual re-opening of Thai airports. According to deputy army chief and CCSA panel chairman Natthapon Nakpanich, foreigners with permanent residences in Thailand and long-term foreign residents will be favoured by the CCSA because “they have high purchasing power.” Let’s hope so.
That appears to mean that foreigners who own outright their own condos may now be en route for an early repatriation, as well as holders of a one year extension of stay such as retirees. However, the detail has yet to be filled in. For example, would a foreigner with a long-term lease on a property or with his name included on official registration documentation (the “yellow book”) be included? Or how many years of annual, consecutive extensions of stay would a retiree have to show to qualify? Three or five or seven?
The recent history of the CCSA suggests that an idea for repatriation is initially floated with weeks of earnest follow-up discussion before a final decision is made. At the beginning of August, an official press release indicated that Elite visa holders were now eligible to apply to return to Thailand, but the websites of Thai embassies abroad have not yet updated their information, presumably as they await instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Thai embassy in London currently states that entry is not available for “tourism and retirement” and indicates that Elite visas remain “suspended”. However, Elite is currently being marketed internationally by the Thai Privilege company as a 5-20 years retirement option with fringe benefits galore. A case of different government departments not being in step.
At the moment, all foreigners seeking admission to Thailand need a certificate of entry from their local Thai embassy. They must present a thick wad of documentation including a fit-to-fly certificate, Covid-19 tests, medical insurance worth at least US$100,000 and proof of their eligible status such as a work permit or permanent residency (ownership of red police book). Certain medical tourists and their retinue are also eligible as are foreigners married to Thai citizens, students or those with an invitation from a Thai ministry.
All wannabe returnees must undergo medical checks on arrival and pay in advance for their own 14-days quarantine at an approved hotel upon landing. The total cost of returning to Thailand at present can run into many hundreds of thousands of baht, not to mention the high cost of air tickets which are available only on repatriation flights. Normal air schedules were cancelled many months ago.
Connie Warren, a spokesperson of the Association of British Travel Agents, said, “It’s clear that Thailand is opening her doors only to the well-off at the present time.” She doubted that mass tourism was even on the agenda until a vaccine was ready and distributable, or until the pandemic died out of its own accord. Other spokespersons have indicated that mid-2021 is the earliest date that can be optimistically surmised.
Meanwhile, the Thai government’s Safe and Sealed tourist idea continues to be debated. Some charter flights may begin in November to Phuket from cities worldwide with no community virus infection cases for at least 30 days. However, a 14-days quarantine would still be required at a resort hotel with the proviso that some sunbathing on the beach in a boxed area might be allowed. Compulsory use of the Thai Chana tracing app or even ankle bracelets are also being mooted. The commercial viability of Safe and Sealed has yet to be tested in the international market place. Best not to get too excited.