BANGKOK - Thailand has rescinded a policy announced at the weekend requiring visitors to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Monday.
Mr Anutin told reporters proof of vaccination was not needed as there was sufficient immunisation globally, while those not vaccinated would be granted entry without restriction.
It replaced new rules announced on Saturday by the aviation regulator, ahead of China reopening its borders.
“Showing proof of vaccination would be cumbersome and inconvenient, so the group’s decision is that it is unnecessary,” Mr Anutin told reporters.
One of Asia’s most popular travel destinations, Thailand is enjoying an influx of tourists during its first peak season since the removal of tight entry restrictions in 2022.
In November, it recorded 1.75 million visitors, quadruple the number received for the whole of 2022 when flights and foreign arrivals were limited.
Mr Anutin said Thailand was now expecting seven to 10 million Chinese visitors, compared with an earlier estimate of five million.
“This is a good sign for Thailand’s tourism sector... the country’s economy will recover rapidly, after we’ve been devastated by Covid-19 for the last three years,” he said.
The first flight from China arrived in Thailand on Monday with the first group among an expected 3,465 passengers on the first day.
“We’re excited to come back to Thailand. We’ve been waiting for three years already,” said visitor Wang Zhenyin, 39, one of the first to arrive.
“Before the start of Covid-19, we came here every year. This time, I take my family to come here.”
Thailand’s Tourism Authority is expecting arrival numbers for 2022 to have exceeded 11.5 million, just over a quarter of the record of nearly 40 million in pre-pandemic 2019, who spent about 1.91 trillion baht (S$76 billion).
Thailand will still require foreigners to show evidence of health insurance cover for Covid-19 if their next destination requires a negative pre-entry test, Mr Anutin said.
The about-face on the vaccine rule follows similar policy U-turns by Thailand during the pandemic that caused widespread confusion among travellers about its entry requirements.
While the “rapid reversal may suggest a risk of frequent policy changes”, Nomura Holdings expects limited implications to its forecast for a strong recovery in Thailand’s tourism, analysts Charnon Boonnuch and Euben Paracuelles wrote in a report. Nomura expects tourist arrivals to jump to 28 million in 2023, helping Thailand post a current account surplus of US$25.5 billion (S$34 billion) that is helping the baht extend a rally against the dollar.
Just prior to Monday’s announcement, the Thai government said it was reviewing the proof of vaccination requirement after Phuket tourism operators complained that it had caused many tourists to cancel bookings to the island.
Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said on Monday that he had asked Mr Anutin to adjust the two-jab rule for foreign arrivals.
Mr Phiphat intervened after the Phuket Tourist Association submitted a letter to the government complaining that the new rule threatened tourism recovery amid the return of Chinese visitors.
The association said it had received negative feedback from foreign tour operators, who expressed consternation over the abrupt change to the arrival rules.
In Germany, tour companies said the jab requirement had created a problem and greatly reduced confidence in Thai tourism, with more than 1,000 hotel room reservations cancelled, Bangkok Post reported.
The rule, which came into effect at 1am on Monday, was implemented amid concern over soaring Covid-19 infections in China. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK