Thailand Reimposes Quarantine Requirements for Tourists Just Weeks After Easing Guidelines

The Thailand government announced Tuesday that people traveling to the country must undergo mandatory quarantine. The new mandate comes into effect after concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant in the country.

In November, Thailand previously allowed for fully vaccinated travelers to enter the country without quarantine. However, the government reinstated quarantine restrictions after a local transmission with the Omicron variant was reported last week.

Thailand's "test-and-go" option, also known as the Thailand Pass, for travelers who are fully vaccinated, will still be allowed to enter the country without restrictions, according to government officials.

There are currently about 200,000 people registered for the program but haven't traveled to the country yet.

However, the government decided not to accept new applications for the program because, "From now, we are back to the old system of quarantine when entering," said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-oca.

A different program known as "sandbox," which allowed visitors to stay but move around in a specific area, will also no longer be allowed except on the island of Phuket, said government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.

Overall, Thailand reported a drop in new COVID-19 cases with only 2,476 cases and 32 deaths reported on Tuesday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country has reported 2,196,529 cases and 21,346 deaths.

Thailand, Tourists, COVID-19 Quarantine
The Thailand government announced December 21, 2021, that people traveling to the country must undergo mandatory quarantine as concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant in the country. Above, medical personal wait to assist arriving passengers at Phuket International Airport as Thailand welcomes the first group of tourists fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus without quarantine in Phuket on November 1, 2021. Mladen Antonov/ AFP/Getty Images

The decision is a blow to efforts to revive Thailand's battered tourism sector ahead of the peak holiday season.

"This is not to shut off tourists but to temporarily suspend arrivals," he said. He added that the decision would be reviewed on January 4.

Travelers who use the "test-and-go" program will be subject to a coronavirus test on arrival and a second test seven days later at the expense of the government. He did not provide further details.

"Today we no longer accept more applications for travelers. No new applications," Chan-ocha told reporters. "We have about 200,000 travelers who already registered. No other restrictions apply for these people, but we will have to track them."

The first case of domestic transmission of the Omicron variant was last week when a returning resident tested negative on arrival but later tested positive and infected members of his family. The few other positive cases were all caught after testing on arrival and quarantined.

Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia eased entry restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers in November in an effort to kickstart tourism, a major revenue earner that collapsed with the start of the pandemic. But with the exception of Thailand, few have attracted the return of many foreign visitors due to complex entry requirements.

Bali, a prime tourism destination, has had only a few dozen foreign tourists since it reopened, and Cambodia and Vietnam have also struggled.

With the onset of omicron, Thailand and other countries in Asia moved swiftly to block entry from an initial group of African nations. But Thailand kept its "test-and-go" program active for fully vaccinated travelers from more than 60 countries.

Under the scheme, fully vaccinated visitors had to show negative results from RT-PCR tests before flying and upon their arrival had a second PCR test. They had to spend their first night in a government-approved hotel awaiting their test results. If the results were negative, they could travel anywhere in Thailand.

Thailand had by far the most ambitious program in the region to allow travelers to enter and move around the country. It eased restrictions after a successful vaccination program that has seen 100 million doses administered to its population of about 60 million people. Booster programs are already underway around the country.

Thailand tested the waters with a "sandbox" program under which it reopened Phuket in July to fully vaccinated visitors without quarantine, allowing them free movement on the island for 14 days and then onward travel throughout the country. It then cut the requirement to seven days, but actively tracked visitors and required them to undergo RT-PCR tests on day one and seven.

Since Thailand reopened to tourists on November 1 with "test-and-go," it has received 290,000 visitors, 130,000 of them in November. Last week, Phuket even had fully booked resorts.

Tourism accounted for some 20 percent of the economy before the pandemic.

Thailand shut its borders to most foreign visitors in April last year after local transmission of the coronavirus started to climb. Foreign tourist arrivals in 2019 were almost 40 million but plunged to 6.7 million in 2020, with most of those visitors coming in the first quarter.

The government had targeted 1.5 trillion baht ($44.6 billion) in revenue from tourism in 2021. Thailand recorded 3.4 trillion baht ($101 billion) in income from the tourism sector in 2019.

Most countries in Asia have reported only a handful of omicron cases so far, or in the case of India, about 200.

India, which also opened to vaccinated tourists in November, has since suspended commercial international flights until January 31 as global alarm over the variant grows. Still, international travel has continued via a number of flights from countries that India had agreements with.

Japan, where the vast majority of the population is vaccinated, now bans entry to most foreign nationals.

Mainland China and Hong Kong have continued to ban tourists from entry. Visitors face tight entry restrictions and mandatory 14- to 21-day quarantines depending on which part of the country they arrive in.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Thailand Tourists Mandatory Quarantine
Thailand on December 21, 2021, decided to immediately restore a mandatory quarantine for visitors and suspend a “test-and-go” scheme for fully vaccinated arrivals as concerns grew over the spread of the COVID-19's Omicron variant, the government said. Above, tourists visit Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 29, 2021. Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo