Thailand backs Covid-19 vaccine passport plan ahead of wider reopening

The Health Ministry will issue documents to residents who have completed their Covid-19 vaccinations that will allow them to travel abroad. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand moved a step closer to issuing vaccine certificates, with a panel of officials backing the proposal seen as a major milestone towards allowing the tourism-reliant nation to fully reopen to foreign visitors.

The Health Ministry will issue documents to residents who have completed their Covid-19 vaccinations that will allow them to travel abroad, according to Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

Thailand also plans to reduce the mandatory quarantine period for vaccinated foreign visitors to seven days from 14 days currently, he said, adding the proposals are expected to be approved by a national committee later this month.

"Foreigners travelling to Thailand with vaccination certificates in accordance with the requirements of each brands, will need to quarantine for only seven days," Mr Anutin Charnvirankul told a news conference, referring to the doses needed to be effective.

The vaccine passport plan is the strongest signal yet from Thai authorities of their intent to reopen the borders more widely to tourists.

The so-called vaccine passport holders may get a complete waiver from quarantine on arrival from October, according to Mr Anutin.

A successful reopening by Thailand could spur other tourism-reliant nations to follow suit, as countries like Britain set out ambitious timelines for easing restrictions.

Thailand is betting on a revival in tourism, which accounted for about a fifth of the country's gross domestic product pre-pandemic, to return South-east Asia's second-largest economy to growth.

The local tourism industry has called for mandatory quarantines to be lifted from as early as July 1 so it can open to potentially millions of vaccinated visitors.

"The quarantine waiver remains the best way to support the travel industry" given the local industry's dependence on foreign tourists, Mr Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, president of the Thai Airlines Association told reporters.

Mandatory quarantine of any duration may still remain a sticking point for most holidaymakers though it may be used by business travelers and long-stay tourists, he said.

Thailand will be able to adjust its quarantine rules for inoculated travellers once there's a global standard for vaccine passports, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Monday (March 8).

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, chaired by Mr Prayut, will consider easing more restrictions ahead of the Thai New Year holiday in April, a peak travel period, according to Ms Apisamai Srirangsan, the centre's spokesman.

More than 25,000 people in Thailand have received their first shots in the first week of a national rollout, including in regions that are popular with foreign tourists. The government may also lift a nationwide state of emergency imposed a year ago to contain the pandemic by the end of May, Ms Apisamai said.

Highlights of the proposed quarantine rules from April are:

- Shorter quarantine period of seven days for foreign nationals with vaccine certificates issued 14 days prior to travel and not earlier than three months and negative Covid-19 test results.

- Seven-day quarantine for returning Thai citizens with vaccine certificates issued at least 14 days prior to travel and not earlier than one month. Travellers also need negative Covid-19 test results.

- 10-day quarantine for those without vaccine certificates but have a negative test result.

Those arriving from Africa will still be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

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