Thailand set to treat Covid-19 as endemic, plans to scrap pre-arrival PCR test

Thailand plans to start easing Covid-19 restrictions from the start of April 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Thailand is looking to scrap pre-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for fully vaccinated travellers from April, as the kingdom gears up to celebrate Songkran.

The celebrations in April have always been a huge draw for tourists wanting to partake in the water-splashing festival for the Thai new year.

Thailand plans to start easing Covid-19 restrictions from the start of next month, said the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Friday (March 18).

Officials have outlined measures for the nation to transit into the post-pandemic era in the next four months, with the authorities hoping to see cases plateau by early May and decline thereafter.

Thailand's current seven-day moving average stands at about 25,000 new cases daily. The number of cases hit a new record of 27,071 on Friday. There were 80 deaths, the highest since the start of the year.

"From July 1, if all goes well and as planned, we hope that we will be transitioning into an endemic from a pandemic," said the CCSA spokesman, noting that booster shots should have been administered to at least 60 per cent of the population by then.

Currently, travellers to Thailand have to take a PCR test and show a negative result within 72 hours prior to travel. They have to take another PCR test upon arrival and a self-administered antigen test on the fifth day of their stay.

The need for a pre-arrival test could soon be scrapped from April 1, according to ongoing discussions in the CCSA. "It was discussed and will most likely (happen)," the spokesman told The Straits Times. There are also plans to scrap PCR tests entirely sometime in May, in favour of only an antigen test on arrival.

Also, starting from April, visitors who have to undergo quarantine when entering Thailand - for being unvaccinated, for instance - will only have to be in isolation for five days instead of a minimum of seven days.

The spokesman on Friday also reminded everyone to observe Covid-19 safety measures during the Songkran festival in mid-April.

While traditional rituals like water splashing will be allowed, foam parties and the consumption of alcohol in public venues will remain prohibited.

On Feb 1, Thailand reopened applications for its quarantine-free travel scheme after it was suspended in December due to the fast-spreading but less severe Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The scheme allows vaccinated visitors to enter the kingdom albeit with some requirements, including Covid-19 tests on the first and fifth day of arrival and mandatory hotel stays.

Thailand's neighbours, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, are also easing entry requirements for tourists with some touting less stringent curbs, such as Cambodia which will be dropping all pre-arrival and on-arrival testing for visitors.

Thai hospitality operators and related sectors have been pressuring the government to further ease border curbs to restore the tourism industry and uplift the sluggish economy.

Thailand has set a target to welcome some 5.5 million foreign tourists in 2022.

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