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Thailand to be a medical tourism hub ?

Thailand aims to lure more foreign visitors in the post-Covid period by promoting itself as a medical tourism hub, building on its good track record of handling the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said.

A virus task force headed by Gen Prayut on Friday will also consider demands to reopen bars, pubs and other nightlife entertainment venues that have been shut for more than a year amid a rebound in tourist arrivals.

The lifting of the curbs is seen as key to lure more visitors in the June-September period, considered a low season for tourism.

“Thailand has a proven track record in dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak,” Gen Prayut told a conference. “We will use this to promote the country’s medical tourism and health treatment to attract foreign visitors after the Covid.” 

The government expects tourist arrivals to more than triple to about a 1 million a month from October as the nation rolls back most of the pandemic-era travel curbs.

While the country has scrapped mandatory Covid testing and quarantine for tourists, pre-arrival registration and insurance requirement are seen as deterrents with other tourism-reliant nations doing away such restrictions.

But with new Covid cases and deaths steadily declining, Gen Prayut has vowed to relax the remaining restrictions to boost business and economic activities, government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said in a statement Thursday. 

The country has seen the Omicron-fuelled Covid-19 wave ease in recent days with new cases averaging about 5,000 a day from a peak of almost 30,000 in early April.

The country, which drew praise from the World Health Organization for its handling of the early phase of the pandemic, has contained total Covid fatalities to below 30,000, fewer than neighbours Malaysia and the Philippines.

The reopening of pubs, bars and other nightlife entertainment venues in some provinces can promote tourism and help millions of people dependent on such business for livelihood, Supot Malaniyom, secretary-general of the National Security Council, said.

While Thailand’s household debt level has risen to almost 90% of the gross domestic product, seen as a major barrier to its economic recovery, lower interest rates and fee charges will help ease the burden, Gen Prayut said.

The government is also betting on large investments by some of the world’s top companies in technology and digital platforms, he said.

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