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Road to Endemic | Traveling after the Pandemic

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  • Road to Endemic | Traveling after the Pandemic

    Learning to live with Covid

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  • #2
    Unpacking the long and winding road to ‘endemic’ in Thailand – latest changes to Covid restrictions
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    Strap in for the tortuous journey towards Thailand’s opening up without the Covid red tape – a four month trip where the country’s long list of confusing and sometimes conflicting restrictions will slowly be binned. But even when we get to July, if all goes to plan (it rarely does), we will still face a number of lingering questions about the survival of the Thailand Pass and treatment of foreigners who test positive for Covid.

    Even after yesterday’s CCSA announcements, the major impediments to travelling to Thailand remain – pre-paid PCR test and 1 night of accommodation when you arrive, wearing masks, limitations on closure times for bars (ahem… ‘restaurants) and the whole ‘Thailand Pass’ pre-registration farago.

    Any urgency to re-open the Thai borders with fewer, or no restrictions, due to the rest of the region rushing to reboot their battered tourist industries, seems lost on the Thai government which have maintained a ‘steady as she goes’ policy, wrapped up in plenty of red-tape. Bottomline, local tourism operators and hotels have at least another 4 months of pain ahead, compounded by the loss of the Russian tourism market, rising fuel prices (air fares) and inflation.

    The main changes announced at the CCSA meeting on March 18.2022
    • From April 1, the pre-arrival PCR test will be scrapped. But you’ll still need to participate in a pre-paid PCR test on arrival and a pre-paid night of accommodation in a registered SHA+ hotel. On Day 5 you’ll still need to do a self-administered ATK test (which is meant to be uploaded into the Mor Chana App).
    • For the Sandbox program, from April 1, where you had in the past been required to stay in a designated district (eg. Phuket) for 7 days, will now be reduced to a 5 day stay in the area before you can then travel freely around Thailand.
    • For full quarantine, from April 1, if you are unvaccinated, you will now only need to do a maximum of 5 days, down from the current 7 days.
    • From May 1, you will only be required to take a supervised ATK on arrival (wither at the airport or designated venue), so no PCR test or compulsory SHA+ hotel stay for the first night.
    • No change to the ‘Covid insurance’ situation. Travellers entering Thailand, with the exception of Thai citizens and returning expats who already have health insurance coverage in Thailand, will need health insurance covering US$20,000.
    • All entertainment venues will remain officially shut. Dr. Taweesin advised operators to convert them into eateries under the Covid Free Setting measures (this is the ‘loophole’ that bars and night venues have been using to re-open at this time). Many bars, especially in the popular tourist and local zones, have clearly re-opened but have to go through the hassles of getting the ‘faux restaurant’ accreditation.
    • No mention of relaxing rules, specified under the Emergency Decree, about the wearing of masks. In reality, people are starting to disregard the rules on mask-wearing at bars and club gatherings, but are still wearing them in public spaces and on the streets during the days. (The Thaiger would recommend foreign visitors follow the lead of the locals in this regard and be vigilant about wearing a face-mask if Thai people around you are wearing their masks. It is unlikely you would be ‘arrested’ or fined for not wearing a face-mask but the locals will certainly appreciate your co-operation as a visitor in their country)
    NONE of these initiatives have been rubber-stamped and posted in the Royal Gazette, but that is considered a formality and you can expect yesterday’s announcements to become reality from April 1. But just to throw a bit of confusion into the mix yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Natapanu Nopakun, said that the changes to the pre-arrival PCR test were being ‘considered’. “It is being considered that the RT-PCR test prior to arrival will not be required anymore. That is being considered, according to the discussions in the general meeting today. When there’s a confirmation… when there’s an actual release on that, we’ll let you know as soon as possible.”

    This differed from the Thai-langauge spokesperson who said that the CCSA had confirmed the change. But just about all media are announcing the pre-arrival changes as a ‘done deal’.

    The Road to ‘Endemic’

    Thailand plans to declare Covid-19 an endemic by July 1 and has laid out a plan to focus on reducing infection rates and coronavirus-related deaths by swift and accessible medical treatment, as well as by accelerating the rollout of booster dose vaccines, particularly to the elderly and ‘at risk’. To prepare for the transition to an endemic, the Thai government has laid out phases, starting with the “Combatting Stage” from now until early April.
    • From April to May, Thai officials say it will be the “Plateau Stage”, with hopes that the number of new Covid-19 infections will remain steady, with no spikes in infection rates. The last stage would be the “Declining Stage,” with a drop in infection and death rates, before going into the “Post-Pandemic Stage” where Covid-19 is considered an endemic.
    • The spokesperson says treatment for Covid-19 patients needs to be “swift and accessible” to hit a fatality rate of 0.1% or lower. He added that booster vaccine doses will need to hit 60% of the population, with a high percentage of the elderly inoculated with the third dose.
    • From July 01.2022 onward, hopefully, and if all goes well and the numbers and situation go as planned, we hope that we will be transitioning into an endemic.”

    The next month (mid-March to mid-April) will also be critical in determining how the plan moves forward as Songkran, the Thai New Year from April 13 to 15, has posed a risk for Covid-19 transmission as many go home to visit families and participate in water splashing activities. The Thai government has decided to ban the massive water fights that Thailand has become internationally known for as a precaution to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

    Zone changes
    Restrictions are easing across Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai. The northern province is now fully open to international tourism and can welcome travellers entering under the Test & Go and Sandbox schemes. Restaurants in Chiang Mai can also serve alcohol until 11:00 pm. A number of provinces have been reclassified on the Thai government’s colour-coded zoning scale based on local Covid-19 infection rates. The majority of provinces in Thailand are classified as “yellow” zones with less stringent measures than “orange” zones. Chiang Mai and Petchaburi have been reclassified as “blue” zones to allow international tourism. Chiang Mai has had five districts approved to welcome overseas tourists, and local officials have been pushing for the entire province to be open to travellers. In orange zones, alcohol sales at restaurants are still prohibited and gatherings are also limited to 500 people. In yellow zones, restaurants can serve alcoholic beverages until 11:00 pm.

    State of emergency
    Thailand’s State of Emergency will remain in effect and has been extended for another two months, giving the government the same powers it has used to tackle the outbreak through its establishment of a Covid-19 task force, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, aka. CCSA. The decree was extended from April 1 to May 31.2022 In explaining the extension, Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha says Covid-19 is “still a pandemic and there needs to be careful consideration and evaluation before transitioning to an endemic phase”. The Emergency Decree was first invoked by the PM in March 2020. The Emergency Decree has been extended numerous times. In past discussions, the government has considered ending the decree, but ending the decree would dissolve the CCSA. Officials have been considering more permanent measures to essentially replace the emergency decree as well as form a government body to handle the Covid-19 situation and other public health emergencies in the future.

    Not so much the elephant in the room, but the squeaky mouse. The so-called BA 2,2 variant has been identified in Thailand (four confirmed cases), after being discovered in Hong Kong. But The WHO and international Covid authorities are yet to identify the strain as a Variant Of Concern. Along with ‘DeltaCron‘, BA2.2 remains an annoying sub-story… The Thaiger will keep an eye on any change in the situation of these reported variants.


    • #3
      Going it alone: Surin province to declare Covid-19 endemic from April 01.2022

      The authorities in the north-eastern province of Surin say they will declare Covid-19 endemic from April 1, adding that they will become the first province in Thailand to do so. With the central government seemingly taking its time over lifting restrictions and moving to a “living with Covid” approach, Surin is going it alone.

      According to a Nation Thailand report, the Surin Information Office confirmed the move on its Facebook page over the weekend, encouraging all residents to get their booster vaccine if they haven’t already done so. The provincial administration says Surin has met all the criteria for declaring the virus endemic, which it lists as follows:
      • All villages are observing the Covid-19 “blue zone” measures
      • The Covid-19 death rate is not higher than 0.5%
      • No more than 3% of Covid patients require hospitalisation
      • At least 70% of the population have received 2 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine
      • All residents in the province adhere to disease prevention measures, including social distancing, regular hand-washing, mask-wearing, testing in the event of developing symptoms, and use of the Thai Chana app.

      In the period between December 24 and March 26, the province reported a total of 16,354 infections and 29 deaths.


      • #4
        Isaan province Surin steps back plans to declare Covid-19 an endemic

        The Isaan province of Surin is stepping back on plans to be the first area in Thailand to declare Covid-19 as an endemic. The provincial government planned to announce Covid-19 as an endemic on April 1, but pushed back the plans with concerns that the infection rate could spike after Songkran, the Thai New Year.

        Yesterday, Surin’s official public relations site shared that the provincial public health had a meeting and agreed to postpone the transition from pandemic to endemic. The officers shared that the province needs to pass 13 requirements to announce endemic. The hospital bed occupancy rate in Surin still needs to be 3% or lower, and the vaccination rate in the province still needs to hit 80%.

        The authorities said they will closely watch the Covid situation after Songkran, adding that the province would carefully consider transitioning to an endemic and make sure the province was completely ready until making an announcement. After Surin declares Covid-19 an endemic, residents will still be urged to follow Covid-19 preventative measures.

        With many residents gathering with families and friends during the Songkran holiday, which starts on April 13, authorities are urging residents to avoid visiting risky areas and to take a rapid antigen Covid-19 test before visiting their hometown.


        • #5
          Health ministry sticking to plan to declare Covid-19 endemic by July 2022

          The Public Health Ministry says it’s on track to declare Covid-19 endemic in Thailand by July 1, despite a prediction of increased deaths, particularly among the elderly. The Bangkok Post reports that Dr Chakkarat Pitayowonganon from the Department of Disease Control says it will take between 2 and 4 weeks to determine if case numbers will reach over 100,000 a day. This is the worst-case scenario, according to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration. Currently, infections are on a downward trend.

          “Right now, we see a decline in the number of daily infections from about 30,000 PCR tests per day before the Songkran festival to only 16,000 cases per day.”
          However, Chakkarat points out that deaths have increased, as has the number of Covid patients who require ventilators. He remains hopeful that any increase in cases after Songkran will be among working people, who tend not to develop severe symptoms.

          “Personally, I am not much worried about the infections after the festival because the risk group is working people who develop fewer symptoms. Many have already received 1 or 2 booster doses. But the problem is that they can transmit the disease to old people in their families. We may see more deaths among the elderly.”
          According to Chakkarat, provided no new variants emerge, Thailand should be in a position to declare the virus endemic by July 1. However, in order for this to happen, around 2 million unvaccinated people over the age of 60 need to be persuaded to have their first dose.

          The health ministry has also urged businesses to allow employees to work from home for around 7 days after the Songkran holiday. Those who are unable to work from home should use antigen test kits prior to returning to work and again during the first week back.


          • #6
            Bangkok prepares to declare Covid-19 endemic due to sharp drop in infections and deaths

            Authorities in Bangkok are preparing to shift gears in their Covid-19 strategy to an ‘endemic phase’, as the Thai Public Health Ministry acknowledges a steep drop in infections and deaths. According to a Nation Thailand report, Kiattiphum Wongrajit from the health ministry says the vaccine rollout, coupled with home isolation programmes and outpatient schemes, has contributed to the significant improvement in the capital’s Covid-19 situation.

            Before Songkran, pessimistic predictions thought that daily cases of Covid could exceed 100,000 infections. The daily numbers headed in the opposite direction and have been under 10,000 for 3 days now. Daily deaths are also trending swiftly downward.

            Nearly all Bangkok residents have now received 2 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, with around 60% of residents having had at least 1 booster dose. Kiattiphum says this high vaccination rate means the capital is ready to manage Covid-19 as an endemic illness.

            Nation Thailand reports that the health ministry is now working with various Bangkok agencies on a gradual easing of Covid-19 restrictions. During the move to endemic, the focus will remain on managing high-risk areas such as pubs, bars, public transport, and public parks, with Kiattiphum expressing hope that the shift to endemic will be smooth.


            • #7
              Anutin instructs 3 ministries to prepare to transition Covid-19 to endemic

              Deputy PM and Thai health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, has ordered his ministry to work with the Tourism & Sports Ministry and the Transport Ministry as Thailand prepares to declare Covid-19 endemic. According to a Nation Thailand report, government spokesperson Traisulee Traisaranakul says the move is a result of the country’s falling infection rate.

              “The Deputy PM said the number of new Covid-19 infections has kept decreasing in the 2 weeks after Songkran, which indicates that Thailand is preparing to declare Covid-19 endemic.”
              Anutin says he wants all 3 ministries, and other relevant agencies, to work together on facilitating the transition of the virus to endemic status. The minister adds that the public must be kept informed, so that they can remain protected while preparing to live with the illness.

              “Downgrading Covid-19 to endemic status must be carried out along with providing health-related knowledge to the people so that they can protect themselves and live with the disease safely.”
              According to Traisulee, a number of Thai provinces are already preparing an “endemic sandbox” programme, under which a number of disease prevention measures could be eased. This could include relaxing restrictions at certain venues and places like public parks and on public transport, provided those provinces are reporting low infection rates and high vaccination rates. She adds that the idea behind the endemic sandbox programme is to have a smooth transition, with minimal disruption to everyday life.

              Yesterday, Thailand reported 9,790 new infections, the fourth day in a row that case numbers have been below 10,000. Yesterday’s death toll is also the lowest reported since early March.


              • #8
                Covid-19 “hospitel” isolation in Thailand to end September 01.2022

                One option for Covid-19 patients with no or mild symptoms in Thailand is to check into a hotel designated for Covid-19 isolation, known as a “hospitel”, but not for much longer. The remaining “hospitels” are set to change back to regular hotels on September 1, according to Director-General of the Department of Health Service Support Dr. Thares Krasaniyarawiwong. The discontinuation of the service is yet to be confirmed by the Ministry of Health.

                Dr. Tharet said that a survey in conducted in August 2022 revealed that there were only 11 hospitels left of the original 79 hospitels operating in Thailand.

                “Hospitels” were proposed by the Thai Hotels Association last year during Thailand’s third wave of Covid-19, when case numbers were high and hospitals were running out of beds. For patients with no or mild symptoms who didn’t want to risk passing their infection on to their families or housemates, 14-day “hospitel” stays were an attractive, more luxurious alternative than a trip to a hospital or “field hospital.”
                At least 23 five-star hotels in Bangkok were converted into “hospitels” for Covid-19 isolotion, with a high price tag, for patients who could afford it. The demand for “hospitel” beds has now declined, partly because case numbers are lower, but mostly because more patients are opting for home isolation, said the doctor. Secretary-General of the National Health Security Office (NHSO) Dr. Jadet Thammatatari said Covid-19 patients should call the hotline 1330 to listen to current available treatment options.

                Alternatively, Covid-19 patients can go to any hospital for an assessment. The doctor will decide whether the patient should receive hospital treatment or outpatient treatment. Thai citizens who are holders of 30-baht universal health care cards are eligible for near-free treatment. Deputy Secretary-General of the NHSO Dr. Attaphon Limpanyalert said the office was trying to make accessing services an easier process for Covid-19 patients in Bangkok…

                “Recently, the NHSO and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration have discussed the idea of developing a kiosk to connect Covid-19 patients in Bangkok with doctors for a consultation. Initially, we plan to set it up in Bangkok in shopping mall areas and in the community. The idea is to make accessing treatment for Covid-19 patients in Bangkok more convenient.”


                • #9
                  Today is the day! Full post-pandemic Thailand reopening

                  After nearly three years, today is THE DAY. In July of 2021, officials cheered the reopening of Thailand with the Phuket Sandbox. Then we had other sandboxes, Test & Go, the Thailand Pass, and numerous other stepping stones. Then in July of this year, we ditched so many regulations and declared a reopening. But today, October 01, 2022 Thailand officially declares full and unrestricted post-Covid pandemic reopening.

                  While new variants and continued infections still can be cause for some concern, Thailand has gone into the “live with it” phase fully, dropping all requirements for international travellers entering the kingdom. They will no longer be required to show vaccine certification, or negative APK tests, let alone RT-PCR test, and can essentially enter as we all did before the coronavirus ride.

                  With this, the full reopening, tourism authorities are tripping over themselves to rollout and promote schemes to lure in tourists full steam ahead. Amid a flurry of cheesy catchphrases and targeted demographic, the move with the most meat is a new promotion until the end of March next year to upgrade the length of stay for people entering the kingdom. Visa-on-arrival travellers that used to receive 15 days will now get a 30-day stamp. And those that entered with a visa waiver will see their 30 days increase to 45 days.

                  Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn raved about the full reopening, mentioning the different overlapping promotion campaigns the TAT has been hyping for months.

                  “Thailand has fully reopened to the world’s tourists with the message, through the ‘Visit Thailand Year 2022-2023: Amazing New Chapters’ campaign, that our fascinating destination offers something for everyone under the ‘From A-Z: Amazing Thailand Has It All’ concept. We invite tourists to come and experience the existing and new tourism offerings in Thailand which, together with the kingdom’s increasing move toward sustainable and responsible tourism, will make for a truly memorable holiday.”
                  Flights have been increasing more and more to Thailand as the demand increases and, now that the country is fully reopened, officials expect to see figures surge in international arrivals, especially with popular tourist areas of the country experiencing high season from October to March. In a press release, the TAT highlighted a number of upcoming events and new attractions hitting Thailand the rest of this year hoping to stimulate international travel.