Thailand set to ease Covid-19 testing rules to lure more tourists

Thailand is counting on the return of tourists to accelerate an economic recovery. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand will scrap a mandatory polymerase chain reaction test on arrival for foreign visitors as the South-east Asian nation rolls back some of the pandemic-era measures seen as deterring global tourists.

The RT-PCR tests will be replaced with voluntary self-administered antigen tests for those entering via air and land borders from May 1, Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesman for the nation’s main virus task force, told reporters after a meeting on Friday (April 22).

That would mean travellers will not be required to reserve a one-night hotel accommodation to secure visas. The new measure also follows the removal last month of a pre-departure test requirement.

Foreign visitors would still be required to furnish proof of vaccination and a medical insurance for US$10,000 (S$13,650), officials said.

Unvaccinated visitors, with negative RT-PCR certificates, will be exempt from a mandatory quarantine, officials said. Those unable to provide such certificates will be subject to a five-day quarantine at state-designated centres, they said. 

Thailand is counting on the return of tourists to accelerate an economic recovery that's already facing headwinds triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

South-east Asia's second-largest economy joins countries from Singapore to Australia and South Korea in easing travel and business curbs after two years of border controls and unprecedented stimulus spending stretched state finances.

The relaxation of entry rules “will boost our tourism”, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-cha told reporters on Friday. “We will need to rely on tourism significantly during this time to ensure our economic recovery.”

While Thailand began gradually easing border controls from November last year, strict Covid-19 testing rules and cumbersome documentation for entry deterred visitors.

Foreign tourist arrivals jumped to 497,693 in the first quarter of this year, up from 20,172 a year earlier when the country was mostly shut to visitors. But it’s still a far cry from the pre-pandemic era when several million holidaymakers visited the country.

The tourism outlook still remains tentative with 4 to 5 million visitors expected this year, Mr Tim Leelahaphan, a Bangkok-based economist at Standard Chartered Plc, wrote in a note. That should still help the country post a current account surplus of 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product, he said.

The baht erased losses of as much as 0.3 per cent on the news, but was still poised for a third weekly loss. 

Standard Chartered is bearish on the baht in the short term but more constructive over the medium term, Mr Leelahaphan said, adding the currency may “remain under pressure from high crude oil prices, a hawkish Fed and negative seasonality due to dividend repatriation” in the coming months.

Thailand is still battling an Omicron-fuelled virus wave with new daily cases hovering around 20,000 and fatalities at a six-month high. The country reported 21,808 new cases and 128 Covid-19 deaths on Friday, Health Ministry data showed.

While restaurants can sell alcohol until midnight from May 1, pubs, bars, karaoke parlours and other nightlife entertainment venues will remain closed.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.