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Thailand is finalizing a proposal that would allow retired, sun-seeking Europeans to spend the forthcoming winter months in the country as an attempt to save its infirm tourism industry.
Thailand's borders have been closed to most foreigners since late March to fight the Corona pandemic.
The government is now preparing to issue visas to foreigners who want to remain in the country for a longterm period, up to nine months, said Boon Vanasin, the chairman of Thonburi Healthcare Group Pcl. That group is the nation's third-largest private hospital organization that operates hospitals and retirement homes.
These long-term visitors will begin their stay at Phuket popular tourist spots with a mandatory 14-day quarantine and several virus tests.
Although the government has in principle accepted the program, it is still finalizing steps to minimize the possibility of infectious diseases, Traisulee Traisoranakul, a government spokeswoman, said.
The opening-up is a lifesaver for the devastated tourism and hospitality industry in Thailand, which is trying to survive without international tourists after five months.
While Thailand has been one of the most prosperous countries in curbing Covid-19, yet, the tourism-reliant economy has been one of the hardest affected globally, expected to decline by an 8.5 percent rate this year.
The country confirmed one acquired coronavirus infection identified in a State quarantine patient on Saturday. The overall number of patients still stands at 3,411, with 111 currently injured and 58 deceased.
The new plan for Thailand will allow millions of seniors from European countries such as Sweden and Germany, who usually spend their winter months in warmer Mediterranean countries, to see the Asian nation while being safe from infection risk, Boon said.
He said his organization had fielded queries from European retirement groups that might lead to 50,000 seniors making the winter trip to Thailand. He plans to work with hotels to provide quarantine facilities and long-term lodging for senior citizens and other long-stay guests who may arrive before winter begins through chartered flights.
Thai Airways International Pcl said it would operate at least two such flights a month from the end of November to link Phuket with countries such as Denmark, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
"A lot of seniors don't want to spend their days in cold winter. They like the hot weather, "Boon said. Before the pandemic, about 90 percent of Thonburi customers were foreign.
Yet it's uncertain that if the government plans to let many foreigners in. Thursday, Thailand's deputy army chief said the country was mulling proposals to reopen to long-stay tourists and foreigners who own local lands, although it will be only "hundred" people.
The country urgently wants an upswing. Before the pandemic, European tourists will holiday from two weeks and two months in Phuket and surrounding areas, said Phuket Tourist Association president Bhummikitti Ruktaengam.
More than 6.7 million European citizens visited Thailand during 2019, and according to government statistics, added 461 billion baht ($14.8 billion) to the Thai economy. They constituted about 17 percent of total international tourists and 24 percent of total foreign expenditure.
"The economy of Phuket needs foreign demand to bounce back, but we still have to manage the risks of infection and the environment," Bhummikitti said.
The Thai government has sought to encourage domestic tourism with a campaign to foot 40 percent of hotel bills for tourists, but local spending alone can not compensate for a loss for foreigners. International travelers in Phuket accounted for two-thirds of total tourists but contributed to 90 percent of the total income.
"We'll enable our plan to be checked first by a limited number of foreign tourists to the country," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said Monday. "We have to do more so the situation doesn't get worse with the loss of businesses and people losing jobs."