The government is considering replacing the RT-PCR test with other screening methods for vaccinated tourists under the Test & Go scheme, and easing high-risk close contact (HRC) rules which force aeroplane passengers who had sat near COVID-19 patients to undergo mandatory quarantine.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn said these decisions would be up to the national communicable disease control committee, and would also require approval from the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) meeting to be chaired by the prime minister on Friday.
As the RT-PCR test requires at least six hours for the result, and inbound travellers must book and stay in a hotel room while awaiting the outcome, alternative methods, such as antigen test kits, are more convenient and help manage the flow of tourists better if the number of arrivals increases.
Mr Supasorn said the CCSA will also consider easing current HRC rules which force those who sit two rows in front of or two rows behind infected passengers on a plane to be relocated to quarantine facilities.
Under the new proposal, only passengers who had sat next to a COVID-19 patient would be kept in quarantine, for a shorter period, meaning there would be a maximum of two travellers affected by the HRC rule.
Meanwhile, those who test positive with mild or no symptoms don’t have to be relocated to the hospital to receive treatment but can choose a hospitel or alternative quarantine instead with a shorter period of up to 10 days, from the current 14 days.
Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said that with the current flow of 2,000 travellers per day on average, hotels are capable of handling guests’ journeys from the airport to the hotels and providing compulsory RT-PCR tests.
As of 9th November, 28 travellers had been detected with coronavirus, out of 28,021 arrivals.
With Thailand reopened for 11 days, the overall process has run without major hiccups, but if the number of inbound guests continues to grow over the next few months, there might be congestion or other problems, such as insufficient airport transfer services, as eligible vehicles are only those who meet safety standards under the SHA Plus programme.
The hotels would also have to work more closely with partner hospitals to ensure that RT-PCR results are released within 6-8 hours when more travellers start to arrive in the country.
Mrs Nunbhakdi said some hotels have started to look for more convenient methods by taking guests to drive-thru testing before checking them into the hotel.
She said that even though more hotels in Bangkok have been certified with SHA Plus and have benefited from the mandatory one-night stay for the Test & Go scheme, hotels in other areas, such as Pattaya and Hua Hin, still have fewer guests than expected.
The proposed new screening measure, which requires no waiting period, would provide more opportunities for hotels everywhere as tourists could travel directly to their preferred destination.