(Bloomberg) — Thailand is easing travel restrictions on visitors from 56 countries, including the U.S., Japan and Singapore, ahead of the peak holiday season to boost the nation’s ailing tourism sector.
Tourists are allowed to enter Thailand without prior visas but will need to carry a health certificate to prove they are free of Covid-19 and undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival, according to Taweesilp Witsanuyotin, a spokesman for the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration. Visitors will also undergo three virus tests while in quarantine, an increase from the two mandated earlier, Taweesilp said.
Thailand is relaxing curbs on foreign tourists after a special long-term visa program unveiled in September evoked lukewarm response and authorities were forced to suspend a successful travel subsidy program for local tourists to probe allegations of corruption. More frequent tests for visitors during the quarantine might help the government shorten the isolation period to 10 days from next month, Taweesilp said.
The quarantine will help authorities prevent visitors from spreading the virus locally and is seen as a more effective strategy than limiting access to tourists from the so-called low-risk countries amid a fresh surge in cases worldwide, Taweesilp said.
“The definition of which countries are low risk or high risk changes every day. So let’s allow them all to enter, but put them into quarantines upon arrival,” Taweesilp said at a briefing on Thursday.
On Friday, Thailand reported three new local cases among the relatives of a 67-year-old Thai fish merchant, who had tested positive a day earlier. The fresh cases took the nation’s total to 4,300, official data showed. Thai authorities have warned against gatherings in violation of Covid-19 rules during Christmas and New Year to prevent a flareup in local transmissions after having largely succeeded in containing the outbreak.
Travelers from the designated 56 countries, which also include Australia, Italy, and France, will be allowed to stay for up to 30 days for tourism activities as part of Thailand’s unilateral agreements since before the pandemic. Citizens from five countries — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and South Korea — can stay in Thailand for 90 days, according to the Covid-19 panel. But the country will not issue any visas-on-arrival, or allow 14 days free travel for those from Cambodia and Myanmar until the virus outbreak improves, it said.
“These are new processes and models for travel that we must adjust to in the new normal,” Taweesilp said.
Thailand is betting on a revival in its tourism industry to exit a recession, with the central bank forecasting it may take at least two years for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to return to the pre-pandemic growth levels. Foreign tourist arrivals generated more than $60 billion in revenue from about 40 million visitors in 2019.