Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says his government plans to reopen the country within the next 120 days, despite the risk of a further rise in COVID-19 infections.
“The time has now come for us to look ahead and set a date for when we can fully open our country and start receiving visitors,” the PM said during a live TV broadcast to the nation yesterday.
Gen Chan-o-cha said a speedy reopening of the country was an important way to begin mitigating the immense economic hardship inflicted by the pandemic on people who had lost their ability to earn an income.
“I am, therefore, setting a goal for us to be able to declare Thailand fully open within 120 days from today, and for tourism centres that are ready, to do so even faster,” he said.
Fully vaccinated visitors to Thailand will be able to enter the country without quarantine or any other inconvenient restrictions, while Thais who are fully vaccinated would also be able to return home after travelling abroad without having to be quarantined, said Gen Chan-o-cha.
Businesses would also be allowed to resume normal operations when blanket restrictions on them and domestic travel are lifted.
“The only exception to these guidelines will come if a truly serious situation arises or seems likely to emerge,” said the PM. “We will look at and deal with such situations on a case-by-case basis.”
“I know this decision comes with some risk because when we open the country, there will be an increase in infections, no matter how good our precautions.”
“But I think, when we take into consideration the economic needs of people, the time has now come for us to take that calculated risk.”
The PM urged all government organisations and provinces to start preparing for the country’s reopening, which will include accelerating the progress of the national COVID-19 vaccination programme.
Based on the government’s current plan, about 10 million shots of the COVID-19 vaccine will have been administered by August, and by early October almost 50 million people will have had their first shot, he said.
The government has secured contracts for 105.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to be delivered this year, even beyond its initial target, and Gen Chan-o-cha said his government would continue to seek additional supplies in 2022.
A key element in the phased reopening will start with Phuket’s “Sandbox “programme which launches on the resort island on 1st July. The prime minister said he was speeding that up so it is endorsed by the cabinet next week.
Gen Chan-o-cha said he expected many other countries to also relax travel restrictions on their citizens over the next 120 days, thus increasing the number of potential tourists to Thailand.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the top priority was to avoid a massive loss of lives to the outbreak, he said, but now they need to prevent a long-term financial “catastrophe” was gaining momentum.
“Our national policy now has to evolve and we should treat this virus just as we do many other diseases in the world with which we have to learn to live,” he said.
Since it was now becoming clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going to go away any time soon, the PM said Thailand could not wait until everyone in the country was fully vaccinated against it before reopening.
“We have to get ready to live with some risk and try to keep it at a manageable level and let people go back to being able to earn a living,” he said.
The government is now following every possible course of action to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are delivered as planned to enable the reopening by mid-October. However, Gen Chan-o-cha cautioned that deliveries of vaccines from manufacturers may not always be fulfilled as promised.
In the near term, the top priority is for everyone to at least get their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine as fast as possible to improve immunity against infection and save lives.
In the long term, said the PM, Thailand is aiming to develop its own vaccine production capacity to ensure its population can rely on vaccines produced locally.
Singapore and Taiwan are planning for the same outcome with their vaccine manufacturing, he said.
Gen Chan-o-cha ended his address by expressing his gratitude to all medical and healthcare staff as well as those health volunteers who had been fighting to contain the spread of the virus and save lives.