Thailand suspends quarantine-free entry over Omicron fears

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BANGKOK – Thailand will suspend its quarantine-free entry scheme from Wednesday (Dec 22) amid concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Foreign visitors who had earlier registered for the Test and Go scheme can still enter the country without quarantine, but have to take an additional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on the seventh day of their arrival at government designated facilities.

Deputy government spokesman Rachada Dhnadirek said this second PCR test would be sponsored by the Thai government.

The suspension of the scheme for vaccinated foreign travellers will last until Jan 4 when the situation will be reviewed.

It means that travellers who want to enter Thailand will need to undergo a seven- to 14-day quarantine period, depending on their vaccination status and originating country.

They can also opt for the Phuket Sandbox scheme, under which visitors are free to travel around the country after spending one week on the resort island.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said that the suspension of the scheme would begin at midnight on Wednesday until further notice. He stressed that the measures were temporary and meant to prevent the spread of the latest Covid-19 variant.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday said officials told him they were capable of handling any possible outbreak stemming from incoming travellers.

“They said we can handle Omicron, which is infectious, but which has mild symptoms,” he told reporters.

According to officials, some 200,000 people had already registered for the Test and Go and sandbox schemes before the change was announced.

Test and Go started just last month and Thailand was banking on it to revive its battered tourism industry, which welcomed some 40 million visitors in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered borders worldwide.

The suspension was announced one day after Thailand discovered its first local transmission of the Omicron variant, involving a vaccinated couple with the woman infected by her husband who had travelled overseas.

At 63 people in Thailand have been infected with Omicron.

On Dec 15, the government eased rules for New Year countdown events, requiring those with 1,000 revellers or more to ensure that participants tested negative via an antigen rapid test beforehand.

Open-air restaurants were also allowed to serve alcohol overnight, until 1am on New Year’s Day.

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