New Thailand international travel curbs to be announced January 5

The Chinese decision to open up travel opportunities for its citizens has all sorts of international repercussions.

Thailand’s Department of Disease Control has announced that a Cabinet decision is expected on January 5 about new regulations for anyone entering Thailand by land, sea and air. At the moment, Thai immigration police do not require to see covid vaccination records or insurance documentation from arrivals: the only check is occasional random inspection by health officials of anyone coughing and sweating or reported by an airline to look potentially sick.

The Beijing’s government’s abrupt cancellation of its zero-tolerance covid policy and opening up of its borders has already led to several countries imposing extra health restrictions on passengers arriving from China. Thailand’s health ministry initially announced – in a confusing statement – that there would be no special hoops for Chinese citizens to jump through. But officials have now confirmed that new international regulations are under debate and will likely be published in a few days. Barring a last minute change of heart, there will be new rules for all and additional measures for Chinese nationals entering the kingdom.

All passengers, entering from any country, will be required to show a vaccination certificate with at least two shots, a former rule which was cancelled from July 2022. It is not yet known how unvaccinated travellers will be treated, or whether they will even be allowed to board their flights. Covid-related medical insurance will not be required except on flights from China and Chinese nationals will additionally be required to have the results of a recent antigen self-swab test to hand. Previous claims that much more expensive and time-consuming RT-PCR tests would be needed appear to have been dropped owing to shortage of available medical staff.

The Chinese government has already reacted angrily to some countries’ insistence that its nationals be treated any differently from others. Because Thailand is particularly dependent on the Chinese tourist market – almost 12 million Chinese visited Thailand in pre-pandemic 2019 – Thai authorities are reluctant to impose extra curbs. However, both the Thai tourist authority and the main opposition party in parliament, Pheu Thai, have insisted that the risk of new variants and fresh covid outbreaks could endanger the health of the Thai nation without enforced special measures.

At present, most (not all) Chinese nationals receive just 30 days stay under the visa-on-arrival scheme but are expected to return to China after expiry. They cannot extend at Thai immigration, nor take a land border run. The restriction pre-dates concerns about covid, but reflects scandals in which Chinese mafias were said to be obtaining long visas for Chinese citizens by bribing adult language school principals and immigration officers to cooperate via “Sin Nam Jai” (gifts to high officials). The immigration police chief has denied many of the fraud claims.