RT-PCR tests for foreign visitors are expected to be replaced by antigen tests from next month in a bid to attract more tourists and revitalise the struggling sector.
Speaking after a meeting of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha said the meeting agreed in principle with the switch proposed by the Public Health Ministry.
Foreign visitors flying into the country will take antigen tests upon arrival instead of RT-PCR, Mr Sathit said, adding that more airport personnel will be deployed to make sure the procedure goes smoothly and takes minimal time.
Tourists can wait for the results, which should take no more than 15-30 minutes to process on-site, without the need to book hotels and wait overnight for the results of RT-PCR tests, he said.
The new rule is expected to attract more tourists and help to resuscitate the economy, Mr Sathit said.
“The CCSA meeting discussed a number of measures as well as the easing of entry rules which will take effect next month,” he said.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said after chairing the meeting that the government will consider a further easing of travel restrictions next month to allow more tourists into the country.
“We will try our best to balance public health and the economy,” the prime minister said.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said the meeting discussed potential entry rule revisions for next month, including the scrapping of RT-PCR tests on arrival for visitors entering under one of the three travel safer tourist programmes.
Taweesilp Wisanuyothin, spokesman for the CCSA, said attendees at the meeting agreed in principle on the need for friendlier measures.
Further easing of travel restrictions will depend on an evaluation of the situation after Songkran next week, he said.
Dr Taweesilp said the CCSA “agreed in principle but had yet to approve” measures tentatively tabled at the meeting for May.
“The prime minister wants to evaluate infection rates after the long break” he said.
The rate of new infections from tourists entering Thailand from the beginning of this month would also be taken into consideration.
Restrictions have been gradually eased since November last year, to help the tourism sector. The government last week lifted the requirement for a pre-travel RT-PCR test for air travellers arriving in the kingdom under its Test & Go, Sandbox and quarantine programmes, from April 1, although they are still subject to an RT-PCR test on arrival.
About 470,000 foreign tourists arrived in the first quarter of this year, surpassing the total number of 420,000 for the entire of 2021, according to the CCSA.
The spokesman admitted existing measures did not allow Thailand to compete with other countries that were reopening their tourism sectors, and the next meeting of the CCSA after Songkran would table a further loosening of restrictions.
The changes tentatively planned for next month included requiring fewer documents to register for a Thailand Pass, a shorter quarantine period and a reduction of the current US$20,000 (672,000 baht) health insurance requirement. The date for the meeting has yet to be officially set, he said.