Thailand’s lifting of almost all its COVID-19 travel restrictions on Friday is conducive to economic recovery, but new concerns have arisen on its plan to declare a “post-pandemic era” in the country, experts said.
Foreign tourists can now visit Thailand without registering for the Thailand Pass, an entry program that was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
This means that all travelers can enter Thailand with just proof of either a vaccination certificate or a pre-arrival negative test result.
The Southeast Asian country removed all key travel restrictions from Friday and had originally planned to declare COVID-19 endemic on the same day. But the Thai Ministry of Public Health said it will postpone the plan for another week as it needs to monitor the domestic COVID-19 situation.
New COVID-19 treatment rules, effective from Friday, will allow patients to receive free treatment at registered hospitals based on their medical benefits and coverage, the Thai government said.
The announcement came as Thailand’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, or CCSA, reported a steep spike in lung infections among COVID-19 patients, jumping to 684 cases on June 30 from 598 on June 17, reported the Bangkok Post.
CCSA assistant spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan said the fatality rate remained stable and the increase was expected since Thailand had already made mask-wearing optional.
Manoon Leechawengwongs, a pulmonologist at Vichaiyut Hospital in Bangkok, said the government should postpone its plan to declare Thailand in the post-pandemic era as the private hospital saw increasing numbers of new patients, a trend that has been seen in all hospitals in Bangkok.
Thailand reported 2,354 new cases on Friday, bringing the national tally to 4,525,269. The virus has caused 30,664 deaths in the country so far.
As of Wednesday, Thailand has administered 140 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the CCSA. Yet, only 42.6 percent of its 70 million population received the booster shot－well below the national target of 60 percent.
Thailand is “not ready” to declare its post-pandemic status, said Thira Woratanarat, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine in Bangkok.
Thira told Seal News that COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving virus and it is difficult to predict its pace and pattern. He said current public surveillance data cannot show the actual infection situation and will cause misperception among Thai people.
“If the Thai Ministry of Public Health announces the post-pandemic entry without readiness, it is highly possible that the epidemic will be going on without a trustable surveillance system,” Thira said.
Thira also said he is most concerned about the long-term sequelae of COVID-19 infections that would impair Thai people’s abilities for daily activities.
Noting Thailand has detected new COVID-19 subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, Thira said BA.5 will take over the pandemic in Thailand. “Around one-fifth of countries with the BA.5 wave showed a higher peak than earlier waves,” he said.
Thira said the health authorities should strengthen the surveillance system and regularly update the situation to the public.
Jesper Palmqvist, area director for Asia-Pacific at data and consulting company STR, told Seal News that easing entry rules will help improve Thailand’s tourism prospects, but the recovery is still in its early days.
Thailand received nearly 40 million international tourists in 2019, with about a quarter of them from China. The country has so far recorded more than 2 million arrivals this year and is aiming to receive up to 10 million foreign tourist arrivals in total.
Though Thailand has been trying to diversify its source markets even before the pandemic, Palmqvist said it will take years to get it going properly. The recovery of airline capacity will also be key, he said.