At the beginning of July, the Thai prime minister stood up on national TV and announced to Thailand and the world that the country would fully reopen to international tourism in 120 days. It was an announcement that took a lot of people by shock but was also welcomed by many business leaders. Indeed, I to was happy to finally hear some positive news. It gave everyone a lift and a reason to feel optimistic. There was a buzz around the country even though we were in the midst of the third wave of rising infections and deaths. The vaccine rollout hadn’t even started but with this good news. how could you think anything would go wrong!
Surely the prime minister had researched the trends of infections and listened to his advisors? He knew the situation in relation to vaccines as well. So, his bold statement must have been based on science and facts? Fast forward to now – Each day since then we have record new highs in relation to infections and deaths. 29 provinces are basically in lockdown. The truth around the vaccines and especially AstraZeneca has finally come out. The 10 million figures touted by the health minister were never actually in play. AstraZeneca never guaranteed or even acknowledged they could deliver that much to Thailand. In fact, the 10 million figure is the maximum production capacity of that facility.
There is no way that the prime minister of the country did not know all of this before standing on national TV and making such bold claims. So, what was behind this stunt? A gee-up for the people of the country? An attempt to take the heat of this beleaguered government. I think it’s a bit of both. And it possibly worked for a few weeks until people started to ask more questions and the vaccine truth came out!
So where does that leave the October reopening? In all honesty, it’s very hard to predict but if I was a betting man, I would say there is very little chance of that happening.
A more realistic date in my opinion would be early December and here’s why!
Thailand has vowed to inoculate 50 million people or 70% of the population by December 31st! A bold statement considering it doesn’t have these vaccines on hand and it is relying on international contracts to be honored on time. At the current rate of vaccination, Thailand will reach 70% by the end of February which is just too late for the majority of hospitality businesses. There will be nothing left to save by then. More vaccines will speed this up, but I don’t see where these vaccines are coming from and neither do I see who is going to administer them. There is a shortage of health workers for this job which can be seen by the very low vaccination numbers at weekends and public holidays.
If Thailand can vaccinate 10 million a month, they could reach 50% of the population by around December! Would this be enough to reopen? It all depends on what areas they are vaccinating and the target group.
First things first is to get all over 60s vaccinated along with those with underlying conditions that are known to be seriously affected by COVID. Protect the most vulnerable in our society. And then move on to the tourist hotspots around the country such as Bangkok, Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi, Samui, Hua Hin, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai and get everyone who wants the vaccine vaccinated. Once you get this done you have put yourself in a good situation and you are really on a solid footing for a December 1 reopening. Vaccination in these areas is key to this plan. The idea of trying to reach 70% for this imaginary herd immunity is over. Scientists have said so. Most countries are fully reopened with a 50 – 60% vaccination rate. Thailand should be no different. It's time that we learn to live with the virus.
The other thing that needs to happen is a commonsense approach to entry requirements. The certificate of entry or COE must be done away with. It is not fit for purpose, and it has proven to not have any place in international tourism.
The only requirement for entry should be a valid vaccination certificate from your home country through a certified validator such as the IATA travel pass or a COVID RT PCR test 72 hours prior to departure through a certified and contracted IATA travel pass vendor. I truly believe we need a global method to validate these certificates and tests so that travel can be made safer during this pandemic and give confidence to both governments and travelers.
However, regardless of the travel pass implementation or not, the above-mentioned criteria should be the only requirements necessary to enter Thailand. It's what the rest of the world is doing, and Thailand is no more special than anywhere else. It's time Thailand remembers its in competition with other destinations around the world and people will not choose to travel to ones that want to take advantage of them, create ridiculous processes and track their every move.
My hope is Thailand will reopen fully to international travel a soon as possible. The Thai people need to earn a living and have their lives restored. The pandemic has destroyed lives throughout the world and not just here in Thailand. It’s been a tough 18 months but with some commonsense approaches, a solid plan, and a desire to succeed, I know Thailand can do it.
People are depressed, people are sad but it's time we turn that frown upside down and remember this is the land of smiles and move forward together.
And that brings me to you – What do you think about all of this? Is December first doable or do you see them needing more time or do you still think October will happen and what do you think the entry requirements should be? As always please leave your opinions, comments, and ideas in the comment section below!