Greetings from Thailand! A few weeks ago I thought it might be a long time before I said that. Thailand was requiring 10-day hotel quarantines for vaccinated travelers and 14-day quarantines for non-vaccinated folks. You have to be an extremely determined traveler to invest that kind of time and money stuck in a hotel room before being allowed to see the sights.
The subsequent lack of tourists caused by quarantines devastated the Thai tourism industry and economy in general. Thailand tried or proposed several different schemes to restart tourism. Many of the proposals were never implemented. Until now, the closest Thailand came to reopening was the sandbox program for a several locations like Phuket Island.
Initially, the Phuket sandbox required staying at designated hotels on Phuket for seven days and undergoing multiple Covid tests before being able to roam the island. Later, when the percentage of vaccinated Phuket residents reached a certain percentage, the government waived the quarantine for vaccinated travelers, but they had to remain on the island in the Phuket sandbox.
Last month, I planned to visit Phuket as a vaccinated person. A couple of weeks ago while I was making the necessary preparations for that trip, the Thai prime minister announced that all of Thailand would open to vaccinated tourists with no quarantine beginning November 1, 2021.
When the PM made that announcement, he neglected to coordinate with the agencies and embassies and consulates that had to manage the program. There were no procedures in place to implement it. For a while it was unclear what would happen on November 1 if anything. The tourist authorities had to scramble.
I didn’t have confirmed hotel reservations yet for Phuket and was able to change my flight easily because I booked with frequent flyer miles. Assuming you can find available space, frequent flyer tickets offer the most flexibility during a pandemic because they can usually be changed without little or no fee and the miles go back to your account pronto unlike trying to get a refund with some purchased tickets.
The Thai program is billed as no quarantine; however it is really a one-day quarantine as travelers must book a designated hotel that will perform a Covid test on arrival. Travelers must remain at the hotel until their test comes back with a negative result. I’m awaiting my result now. I really hope the test is negative because if the test is positive, it will require a trip to a hospital for further evaluation and quarantine for an indefinite period.
I applied under the old system which required a Certificate of Entry (COE). The new system has essentially the same requirements but is called Thailand Pass. The process was simple but took time to coordinate all the parts. In the coming days, the blog will have posts detailing the application process and the experience of Covid travel including a amazing flight from Chicago, IL to Tokyo, Japan in first class on Japan Airlines. I also need to catch up on several post from my recent trip to Greece. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll be in kind of a self-imposed quarantine trying to get these posts done.
It looks like travel is opening again in many parts of the world. Thailand’s approach, if successful, will probably be copied more or less by other tourist-dependent countries that the pandemic has hit hard. Because it seems impossible that we’ll ever get 100% of the population vaccinated, vaccine effectiveness wanes, and vaccines aren’t guaranteed to prevent infection, it seems like Covid is here to stay. My layman’s opinion is travel restrictions of some type will be with us for the foreseeable future, and the only way of getting back to pre-pandemic status may be the development of treatments that, in terms of morbidity, make Covid like the other communicable diseases we live with.