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Thailand easing Covid test rules for overseas visitors

Thailand will consider scrapping a mandatory real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test on arrival for foreign visitors as the country further relaxes its visa rules to attract tourists.

The Public Health Ministry will propose replacing the RT-PCR tests with a rapid antigen test, Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters on Thursday.

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration will consider the relaxation at a meeting on Friday, he said.

Visitors to Thailand currently need to pre-book a RT-PCR test along with a one-night hotel accommodation to secure a visa. Hotel operators say the rules are a major dampener for travellers to the country.

Under the proposed rules, visitors may undergo the rapid antigen tests at the airport or any other designated venues starting May 1, government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said in a statement Thursday.

Thailand was among the first tourism-reliant nations to end quarantine requirements for inoculated visitors and this month waived a pre-travel Covid test mandate, but arrival numbers have failed to meet expectations. 

The Thai Hotels Association and the Federation of Thai Industries want the government to end the so-called Test & Go visa programme to stimulate the economy. 

The average daily foreign arrivals to Suvarnabhumi airport jumped 66% to 11,623 so far in April from a month earlier after the government withdrew a pre-travel Covid test requirement, Mr Thanakorn said, adding inbound travel will pick up pace in the coming months to aid faster recovery of the tourism sector

Mr Anutin said the government may further ease Covid restrictions if the annual Songkran holidays to mark the Thai New Year do not trigger a spike in new cases.

New daily infections may jump to 50,000-60,000 as people travel and hold family gatherings starting next week, the ministry warned earlier this week.

Thailand reported 26,081 new Covid infections and 91 deaths on Thursday, according to the ministry.

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