Thailand eases Covid-19 testing rules for foreign visitors despite mounting infections

The latest relaxation of curbs coincides with a "notable increase" in Covid-19 numbers in Thailand. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Thailand is easing entry requirements for incoming travellers by scrapping a second polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test under its quarantine-free scheme, joining regional countries in relaxing its border restrictions despite a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Currently, upon arrival, travellers have to take a PCR test and stay that night in an approved hotel while awaiting the result. This is repeated on the fifth day during which they will undergo a second PCR test and another one-night stay in an approved hotel.

But Thailand's Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) announced on Wednesday (Feb 23) that from next month, visitors will need to perform only a self-administered antigen test on the fifth day.

This will apply to those who register to enter the country from March 1 under the Test and Go system, also known as the kingdom's quarantine-free entry scheme.

The move will reduce costs for travellers as they will need to pre-book and pay for only one PCR test and a single night's hotel stay.

They will be required to report the result of the day five self-administered test on the government's Covid-19 app, also known as Mor Chana, which all visitors must download upon entry into Thailand.

"Should you find yourself testing positive, you will be required to note that in the app. And should you require treatment, you should contact local hospitals nearby," said the CCSA spokesman.

Additionally, the minimum insurance coverage required to enter Thailand will also be reduced from US$50,000 (S$67,200) to US$20,000, starting from next month.

Applications for Thailand's quarantine-free entry were suspended in December last year, less than two months after the scheme was launched, due to growing concerns over the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The scheme resumed on Feb 1 with stricter measures, including a second PCR test on the fifth day of arrival.

Tourism operators and business groups have, in recent weeks, called on the government to cancel the need for repeated PCR Covid-19 tests for foreign tourists.

The latest relaxation of curbs coincides with a "notable increase" in Covid-19 numbers in Thailand, with daily caseload figures crossing the 20,000 mark for the first time since August last year.

On Wednesday, Thailand reported 21,232 confirmed new cases and 39 deaths. This brings the country's total number of infections to over 2.7 million and fatalities to more than 22,000 since the start of the pandemic.

Thailand remains at level four of its Covid-19 alert, the second-highest of a five-tier system, with venues considered to be high risk such as bars, pubs and karaoke joints staying closed. People are also urged to work from home if possible and to avoid inter-provincial travel.

The authorities have warned hospitals and medical facilities across the country to prepare for an anticipated jump in cases, and more isolation centres are being prepared in the provinces.

Currently, over 71 per cent of Thailand's 70 million population are fully vaccinated. Nearly 30 per cent have received their booster shots.

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