Thailand plans to scrap a mandatory polymerase chain reaction test on arrival for foreign visitors from next month as the Southeast Asian nation steps up efforts to attract more tourists amid a rebound in global travel.
The RT-PCR tests will be replaced with antigen tests at the airports, Deputy Health Minister Satit Pitutecha told reporters in Bangkok on Friday after a meeting of the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration. Vaccinated travelers will also no longer need to reserve a one-night hotel accommodation to secure visas, he said.
Thailand joins countries from Australia to the Philippines and Singapore in easing entry rules as it counts on the return of tourists in large numbers to sustain a nascent economic revival facing risks from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The nation’s hotel industry has long demanded the cancellation of the so-called Test & Go visa program, seen as a major deterrent for travelers.
“We’ve continued to ease rules on tourist arrivals both by land and by air, and we’ve seen substantial increase in arrivals,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha told reporters. “We will need to weigh carefully between the economy and heath.”
The virus task force will again review the proposed visa relaxations after next week’s Songkran holidays to mark the Thai New Year, Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesman, told a separate briefing.
The biggest challenge for Thailand’s tourism industry is the lack of visitors from China, which has a zero-Covid tolerance strategy and is experiencing a surge in omicron cases, Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management, wrote in a note Thursday. The scrapping of RT-PCR tests may help to strengthen the baht at the margin, he said.
Moody’s Investors Service, which on Thursday maintained Thailand’s Baa1 rating and stable outlook, expects a gradual recovery in tourist arrivals with a return to the pre-pandemic levels only in late 2024 or early 2025. Arrivals from China will pick up only in 2023, while the number of Russian tourists will decline significantly in 2022 following the Russia-Ukraine military conflict, it said.
Chinese and Russian tourists accounted for more than one-third of the 40 million visitors to Thailand in 2019, according to official data. Tourist arrivals in the first quarter of this year were 476,674, already surpassing last year’s total of 427,869, Taweesilp said.
Thailand is still battling an omicron-fueled virus wave with new daily infections near a record and fatalities at a six-month high. The country reported 25,140 new cases and 89 Covid deaths on Friday, Health Ministry data showed.