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Thailand may have to allow new infections if it wants the economy back on track

26 Jun 2020

Thailand need to encourage new diseases in the kingdom if it wants to bring the economy back on track, a health official said Thursday.

Supakit Sirilak, deputy permanent public health minister, said the kingdom has gone 31 days without reporting any new local transmissions. He said the nation may have to let its guard down when handling new diseases successfully, if the economy is to recover.

Dr. Supakit, who heads a committee appointed to the Ministry of Public Health to evaluate the Covid-19 condition, said the committee is drafting recommendations about how to revive the tourism sector, in particular travel bubbles to support the economy step ahead.

The recommendations would be referred for review to the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) at a conference on Monday. He offered no more information.

"Thailand has gone 31 days without new local infections, but long-term attempts to hold new cases at nil would have a heavy price to pay for us," Dr. Supakit said. "They will have to recognize the economic and social costs."

"When we encourage too many diseases, though, they will overload our health care infrastructure, and that would also have an detrimental economic effect," he added. "They will also strike a compromise — enabling certain new pathogens to exist at a reasonable pace, so that the economy will step on."

The government also created a strategy to expand travel bubbles with several countries, a critical step to establish external relations and improve the economy.

Japan and China are among the countries identified by the government for travel bubbles, when the country is in desperate need of international tourist returns.

Chinese tourists accounted for the bulk of all international visitors until the epidemic (27.6 per cent), with 28.1 per cent of tourism income originating from them.

Dr Supakit, however, said the travel bubble arrangements had to be controlled, including free travel restrictions. State, operation, and personal risks need to be addressed, he added.

Before arriving in Thailand travelers should come from areas and territories deemed free of the disease. The travellers should also stay in pre-approved accommodation while in the Kingdom.

"When conditions shift and countries with travel bubble pairings with Thailand have new infection spikes, arrangement parameters can also alter," Dr. Supakit said.

Thira Woratanarat, a health expert at the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, posted on Facebook Thursday warning against allowing medical and wellness tourism to return. Dr. Thira said the risks would greatly exceed the benefits the kingdom could obtain from the
initiative, despite the magnitude of the current global pandemic, with major epidemic surges in many nations.

Somsak Roongsita, National Security Council Secretary-General, said travel bubbles won't happen any time soon on Thursday.

Preparations can take up to two months until tourists would be able to join from countries with travel bubble pacts with Thailand, he added.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the Japan Foreign Trade Organization (Jetro) has told him on Thursday that thousands of Japanese entrepreneurs want to come to Thailand on business trips.

Mr Wissanu said the recommendations would be addressed at the CCSA Monday meeting to prepare for their return. 

He also stated that Jetro wants Thailand to expand the amount of alternate quarantine facilities to serve incoming Japanese businesses, from an approximate 900 to more than 1,000.

The Deputy Premier said the government would be able to find further quarantine facilities if desired.

On Thursday, the CCSA announced a new case of coronavirus found in a Thai national coming back from abroad, bringing the country to 31 days without a local transmission.

Source Bangkok Post