CHIANG RAI, 4 August 2020: If talk could cure Covid-19 we would all be sunning ourselves at our favourite beach resorts without a care in the world. Instead, we are struggling with simple, practical matters such as how on earth do we embark even on essential travel in today’s new normal? The answer is we don’t as long as we encounter a lengthy quarantine, grounded commercial airline flights and expensive insurance policies.
Those last-minute bookings when we hopped on a plane for fun because the airline had a great 11th-hour deal are long gone. If you want to travel it now takes up to a month to cut through the clutter of confusing rules that barricade country borders.
If we thought the confusing rules are there just to keep foreigners at bay and ensure countries remain relatively Covid-19 free think again. Apparently, nationals also face the same maze of unmanageable rules that inconvenience “alien” or foreign travellers.
If you are a Thai living in the UK, the chances are you have been queueing to buy passage back home since mid-March. You filed your name and details on the Thai embassy’s list for repatriation, and you never heard another word. It’s a worry as you are now running out of cash and are possibly redundant. You call the embassy every day, but no one picks up the phone. That’s the new normal. Chatbots that have the intellect of a newborn baby and answering machines frustrate us with messages; “I don’t understand your question, or we are not in the office due to the Covid-19 lockdown.”
But you still believe the Thai embassy in London is competent in its new travel agency role and you won’t be left stranded in a foreign land for much longer. Repatriation flights, usually two or three a week with around 250 passengers each, take off and not a word or update from the embassy. There are around 7,000 Thais queued on the embassy’s data bank all waiting to get back home according to reliable sources.
The truth dawns that even if you put your name on the online registration list back in March, the embassy apparently deletes all the names that failed to make the cut at the end of each month. You will need to start the process all over again.
Three Thai International repatriation flights are scheduled for August. On the 31 July, the embassy opened the registration online and a day later closed it as all three flights were full at a one-way fare of around THB26,000.
The familiar red alert flashed on the website page with the instructions “check this link to register.” In just one day your chances of returning home are again shunted aside this time to September at the earliest and so on until Christmas dawns?
If the embassy does give you the go-ahead to return home on a flight in August, you have less than a week to visit a doctor’s clinic to ask the GP to certify you are free of the Covid-19 infection (fit-to-fly certificate). He must also vouch that you had no symptoms for the last 14 days, even though he hasn’t been monitoring your health during that period. He might observe during the short interview that your blood pressure is high but no wonder you are jumping bureaucratic hoops to beat a deadline.
You must obtain a Covid-negative test and then the embassy will email you a “certificate of entry” that allows you to pass through Thailand’s border checkpoints to start your state quarantine in Bangkok. Finally, you have to fill out a Tor 8 form that is presented to health officers when you arrive in Thailand.
Often the online registration form on the embassy’s website crashes before you reach the last page or it stubbornly insists your ID number is not correct after you carefully tapped it carefully. Then there are would-be repatriates who are not computer savvy. They are left to flounder calling a telephone number that responds with “we are not in the office.”
Fortunately, the Thai ambassador to the UK posted on the website a message of hope. He encouraged Thais stranded in the UK to take heart: “Now, the weather is much warmer in the summer. Different shades of flowers can make us more cheerful. Why not enjoy the beauty of nature in your local areas for recreation, instead of returning to Thailand as many of us usually do, while observing health and safety measure to keep well and stay strong.”