Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul will propose restoring the Test & Go programme to win back overseas visitors and accelerate the economic recovery.
The minister said on Monday he will ask the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to relax restrictions stepped up early this year in response to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
His request will be put to the centre after a discussion with the Department of Disease Control which confirmed that the fast-spreading Omicron variant caused milder symptoms with far fewer hospitalisations and deaths.
As Omicron is within the government’s ability to control it, measures to spur the economy, which were halted earlier, will be resumed amid a Covid-safe setting.
Mr Charnvirakul noted the public cooperated well in addressing Omicron, which is now the country’s dominant coronavirus strain.
In the past few weeks, daily caseloads have surged although they now appear to be levelling off.
The public health minister said approval will be sought from the CCSA, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, to resume the Test & Go programme under which overseas visitors spend only one night at a hotel. If their COVID-19 test turns out negative, they are free to leave that accommodation and enjoy their holidays.
Mr Charnvirakul said it was unclear when the CCSA is expected to meet to consider his request.
He insisted a balance must be struck between keeping a guard up against the pandemic and restoring the economy.
However, Mr Charnvirakul stopped short of confirming if reopening entertainment venues will be among measures he had in mind to ease restrictions. He said this issue needs careful consideration. Clubs and bars were blamed for triggering infection clusters, especially during New Year celebrations.
Meanwhile, Omicron has almost completely replaced the Delta variant in Bangkok, said the Centre for Medical Genomics at Ramathibodi Hospital.
Via Facebook, the centre said checks of COVID-19 infections among patients in state-run and private hospitals in the capital and surrounding provinces showed Omicron accounts for 91% of cases and Delta 2.8%. The checks were performed from 3rd-16th January.
According to the centre, after a brief period of ‘Twindemic’, referring to the parallel infections between the Omicron and Delta strain ending, Omicron will be prevalent throughout the country.
“That is when almost everyone will be infected with Omicron at one time or another. After that people will have built a high immunity either from the vaccine or the infection,” the centre said.
“The intensity of COVID-19 symptoms will decline and fatalities will be significantly reduced,” the centre said, adding the cross-technology vaccination formula was also working well to boost immunity.
COVID-19 is likely to evolve into an endemic or a seasonal disease, it said.
Also on Monday, Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, president of Bangkok Airways, said airlines wanted the government to bring back the Test & Go programme, as long as the health risk posed by Omicron was carefully assessed.