BANGKOK, 27 May 2020: Popular Thailand travel blogger Richard Barrow says his gut feeling suggests the country’s ban on international flights could be extended when it expires at the end of June.
Fielding questions from foreigners who are desperately looking for ways to reunite with their families in Thailand he suggests they may have to wait months to re-enter Thailand.
Many of them are work-permit holders or they reside in Thailand on one-year retirement or marriage visas. The sudden ban on international travel left them stranded overseas unable to book flights to reunite with their families living in Thailand.
They were trapped overseas when the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand introduced the ban on international flights landing in Thailand 3 April and subsequently when the CAAT extended the ban until the 30 June.
Banning international flights except for repatriation of Thais allows the authority to test arriving passengers for Covid-19 and ensure the 14-day quarantine requirement does not overwhelm the available accommodation pool.
While the travel industry desperately hopes CAAT will take its hand off the brake and allow international flights to resume, 1 July, Barrow points to the backlog of Thai nationals overseas still queueing for repatriation flights.
More than 8,000 Thais have joined repatriation flights home in May, but there are still 40,000 pending repatriation requests. Barrow says there is a long queue just dealing with Thais stranded overseas. They could overwhelm the quarantine process.
“When will foreigners be allowed back into Thailand? No-one knows for sure as a decision hasn’t been made yet. But we can make some educated guesses,” says Barrow on his public Facebook post.
He points out that only airlines offering repatriation flights for Thai nationals are currently allowed to land in Thailand.
“Sadly, foreigners with Thai families are not allowed on these flights. This is because there is a daily quota, and there are thousands of Thais still waiting to be repatriated.”
At present, the only foreigners who have a decent chance of travelling to Thailand are diplomats and work permit holders, even if commercial flights reopen. But will the flight ban be extended again?
Taking Barrow’s gut feeling appraisal, the odds favour extending the flight ban at least through July if for no other reason than to ensure the backlog of repatriation flights can be cleared before commercial travel reboots and stricter entry rules such as mandatory PCR swab tests and 14 days quarantine apply.
Barrow points out that “even if they reverse the ban on international flights to Thailand 1 July only diplomats and foreigners holding a work permit holders are identified on the travel approval list. No-one knows when they will update this list to include other categories of travellers. It may be months.”
So, if you are an optimist, then you may take heart when Barrow says the “earliest that foreigners will be allowed back into Thailand is now 1 July.”
But pessimists may note that the only eligible categories on the approval list of foreign travellers based on the current emergency decree are diplomats and work permit holders.
“Tourists and people who wish to enter Thailand on other visas might not be able to enter until later,” he warns.
Barrow’s comments won’t gel well with the tourism industry, which is fluffing over these practical details when it discusses recovery. It is expecting someone to throw the switch from lockdown to open house in one swift move, while the government clearly favours a phased reopening of its travel borders. A gradual reopening gives it time to set up and manage stricter health and entry measures, possibly to initially to facilitate just essential travel.
We assume that the government will ring the bell for tourism to resume in earnest in July while the facts suggest that Thailand’s tourism could be seriously curtailed by regulations and health guidelines until there is a vaccine or cure on the market possibly in mid-2021.
That is not exactly the outcome we envisaged when we first encountered Covid-19 back in late January. Back in January, we all thought this battle would be done and dusted by the end of June. Now we know there is no quick-fix for the Covid-19 crisis.
For more of Richard Barrow see https://twitter.com/RichardBarrow
or visit www.richardbarrow.com http://www.richardbarrow.com