Brits rush to change flights to Thailand

Easy travel to Thailand is again under threat from the pesky virus.

The “suggestion” by the Thai health ministry that the spread of the Omicron virus is likely to result in urgent travel restrictions has unnerved the international flight market. Britain, which has particularly high Omicron infection levels, feels especially vulnerable. Trailfinders and Flyscanner, amongst other companies, report customers urgently trying to rebook flights before an expected shift in the rules. Few short-term tickets are now available, mostly with stopovers in the Middle East. British Airways and Eva no longer fly direct from UK to Bangkok.

Currently, fully-vaccinated and virus-free citizens of 64 countries, including Britain, can apply for Test and Go clearance to visit Thailand. Once here, they are required to reside in a pre-booked hotel only for several hours awaiting the hopefully-negative result of their new RT-PCR health test. The fear is that Thai authorities will abolish Test and Go for some or all of the 64 countries and replace it with the Sandbox program (which requires new arrivals to sleep for seven nights in a pre-booked hotel with daytime freedom of movement in the area) or a 10 or 14 day compulsory isolation/quarantine irrespective of vaccination status.

A formal decision will likely be taken by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), the top Thai health committee, on Christmas Eve. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is insisting that no decisions have been made and that all stakeholders will be heard. Phisut Sae-Khu, president of the eastern chapter of the Thai Hotels Association, said that sudden changes would have a negative impact, whatever the detail.

Pattaya, whose economy is mostly dependent on tourism, has recently seen international arrival numbers soar, particularly from Scandinavia and the UK. Thanet Supornsahasrungsri, the acting president of the Chonburi Tourism Council said that daily arrivals were now 500-700. Many business owners say that the answer is not more entry restrictions but the enforcement of a digital pass system in every public place. Experience in Thailand suggests this policy is idealistic rather than practical.

The World Health Organization said that the number of Omicron cases is doubling internationally every 2 or 3 days in areas with community transmission, although doubts remain about the severity of illnesses created by the virus variant. Thai travel agents mostly say that the local hospitality industry might just survive the adoption of the Sandbox program, but that the return of isolation-quarantine would be a death knell for 2022.