Thailand halted its quarantine-free entry program after less than two months, citing concerns about the potential spread of the omicron variant by arriving tourists.
The Covid-19 panel chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha suspended approval of visitors for quarantine-free entry from Tuesday to Jan. 4 amid rising imported cases of the strain. The Covid panel will reassess the policy on Jan. 4, said Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow.
Tourism-dependent Thailand waived the requirement for more than 60 jurisdictions last month provided travelers were fully vaccinated and had negative tests for the virus both before and immediately after arrival in the country.
About 200,000 visitors previously approved to enter without quarantine will still be allowed in, although they would be closely-monitored and must comply with additional measures like having two PCR tests while in Thailand upon arrival and on the seventh day in the country, Government Spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said at a briefing.
Of the travelers approved for quarantine-free entry, 110,000 have already arrived, the premier said. Reimposing a lockdown will be a last resort, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul added.
“We are prepared for the situation and will respond promptly so there will be no need to worry about closing businesses,” Anutin said. “We will protect as much as possible and we must make Thailand safe.”
Overseas travelers can still enter Thailand through the nation’s normal quarantine process and its so-called Phuket Sandbox program. The government also requested Thais to delay or cancel any unnecessary overseas trips, especially to Europe, the U.S., Africa and the Middle East.
The baht dropped to its weakest in nearly three weeks, trading at 33.685 per dollar at 3:57 p.m. local time. The benchmark SET equity index pared gains of as much as 0.8% after the announcement.
The suspension threatens the nascent economic recovery of Thailand, where the government forecasts as many as 15 million tourists in 2022 would provide revenue of as much as 1.8 trillion baht ($53.4 billion). The World Bank last week warned that reimposing travel restrictions could lead to an economic contraction of 0.3% next year instead of the 3.9% growth it was projecting.
The decision to temporarily halt quarantine-free entries comes before the Bank of Thailand releases its latest economic forecasts for next year on Wednesday during its policy-rate meeting. The omicron variant adds more risk to the nation’s recovery, especially on projected tourist arrival numbers which could impact growth estimates, Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput said on Dec. 13.