COVID-19: Thailand’s Bangkok welcomes first tourists for quarantine-free holiday

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Hundreds of vaccinated foreign tourists are scheduled to arrive in Bangkok on Monday, the first wave of visitors to Thailand in 18 months who will not have to undergo quarantine for the coronavirus.

Seeking to resurrect its pandemic-ravaged tourism economy, Thailand’s government has given the green light to vaccinated tourists from more than 60 countries, including the United States and China.

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Several European countries are also on the list as officials hope to capitalize on travelers from the northern hemisphere escaping the winter blues.

Thailand, one of the Asia-Pacific’s most popular tourist destinations, has for the past 18 months enforced strict pandemic entry rules that have been criticized in the travel industry for being too restrictive and onerous.

Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about 12 percent of Thailand’s GDP and its capital city was the world’s most visited city.

The crisis has cost Thailand about 3 million tourism-dependent jobs and an estimated $50 billion a year in revenue.

Thai officials tested the waters with the reopening of the resort island of Phuket in July, allowing fully-vaccinated tourists to skip the then-mandatory two-week quarantine provided they stay on the island, where tourism accounts for 90 percent of the local economy.

However, the “Phuket Sandbox” was less popular than officials had hoped, with arrivals to the island in July at just 1 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

Under the new national program, arrivals must spend their first night in a pre-approved hotel and receive a negative COVID-19 test before they are able to travel freely to rest of the country.

Airlines have rushed to ready the country for the hoped influx of visitors, bringing jets back from hibernation. Still, the return will be relatively slow. The finance ministry predicts just 180,000 foreign arrivals this year and 7 million next year, compared with some 40 million in 2019.

The majority of Thailand’s 1.9 million infections and more than 19,000 coronavirus-related fatalities have been recorded since April. Around 42 percent of the 72 million population has been vaccinated.

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