Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered various ministries to speed up preparations for boosting tourism while keeping in mind pandemic restrictions.
The order comes as a medical expert raised concerns over the possibility of the healthcare system having to battle with another outbreak if the government insists on reopening the tourism industry as early as 1st October.
Gen Chan-o-cha on Wednesday assigned the Tourism and Sports, Public Health and Interior ministries to prepare for a rise in both Thai and foreign tourists in the fourth quarter of this year, known as the high tourism season, said Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Dr Visanuyothin was speaking after a meeting of the CCSA chaired by the prime minister.
The ministries were instructed to find areas with the potential to be a part of the government’s new tourism reopening programme called “COVID-free Tourist Area Sandbox”, similar to the Phuket Sandbox programme, he said.
Dr Visanuyothin said ideal candidates for the tourism programme include islands and areas with an airport, which would also have in place COVID-19 prevention and control measures.
The pilot phase of the new tourism promotion programme will begin in October when five provinces — Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Phetchaburi and Chon Buri — are due to reopen for tourism, he said.
Dr Prasit Watanapa, dean of Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, meanwhile, cautioned the country is not fully ready to reopen given its low COVID-19 vaccination coverage.
Dr Watanapa suggested the government should take into account a lesson learned by Phuket after piloting its Phuket Sandbox programme and the fact that even fully vaccinated people can still catch the coronavirus and spread it.
“It will be worrying to lift the COVID-19 quarantine when the country reopens its tourism on 1st October, while only 38% of the population has received one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and only 18% of the people have had two shots of the vaccine,” he said.
“In fact, it would be better off if we will keep waiting for another month to ensure the country is really ready.” Some businesses are also thought to be concerned about the effects on tourism confidence of opening the country too early.
Meanwhile, Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for public health, said a disease control team has been sent to Phuket to assist local health authorities to contain COVID-19 after the province began recording 200 plus cases of COVID-19 daily.
“The overall effectiveness of Phuket’s COVID-19 vaccination is also being assessed to determine whether a booster shot will be needed,” Dr Wongrajit said.