Thailand welcomes first tourists since March
39 Chinese tourists arrive as the country seeks to revive its economy
BANGKOK Thailand has welcomed its first group of tourists in seven months, as part of an experiment aimed at testing if a wider opening is possible as the coronavirus cripples the kingdom's economy.
A planeload of 39 Chinese tourists flew into Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport late on Tuesday evening from Shanghai to a welcome from staff in full protective equipment.
The visitors underwent health checks and had their luggage disinfected, before donning protective clothing themselves and being whisked away for two weeks' quarantine.
"It's a welcome sign that foreigners are confident in our safety measures," Health Minister Anutin Chanvirakul said.
"I instructed officials to take good care of the tourists, because if they're safe, Thais are safe too."
The pandemic has brought the South-east Asian nation's economy to its knees, with eight million expected to lose their jobs by the end of the year.
Many of those losses will be in the tourism sector, in a country that saw 40 million international arrivals last year.
The holidaymakers have come under a special tourist visa scheme, which offers 1,200 spots and allows people to stay for up to nine months.
The arrival numbers were much smaller than the 150 passengers the authorities touted last month.
Tourism consultant Bill Barnett admitted ongoing unrest with pro-democracy protesters and the police was damaging Thailand's image, but said the country could channel visitors away from protest-hit Bangkok.
"Thailand will become an economic basket case if it doesn't bring back tourism," he said.
A second group of 147 Chinese tourists from Guangzhou is due to arrive next week, followed by a flight from Scandinavia next month.
The country yesterday further eased coronavirus restrictions and plans to shorten a quarantine period to encourage foreign tourists, an official said.
Relaxed rules will make it easier for people on yachts and the foreign crew of ships to enter the country, but with strict adherence to health measures, coronavirus task force spokesman Taweesin Wisanuyothin told a briefing.
The government is considering shortening the mandatory quarantine period for new arrivals from the current two weeks, he said. Some health officials have suggested that it could be reduced to 10 days.
Meanwhile, an outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishermen flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country's largest daily increase in infections in months, the authorities said yesterday.
More than 230 fishermen were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for Covid-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand's director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.
The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25, the highest level since April, sparking concern among officials.
In the region, Indonesia reported 4,267 new infections yesterday, taking the total to 373,109. It also confirmed 123 deaths, taking total fatalities to 12,857.
The Philippines yesterday confirmed 1,509 new infections, its lowest daily increase in cases in more than six weeks.
In a bulletin, the Health Ministry said there were 60 deaths. Total cases have risen to 362,243 while deaths have reached 6,747. - REUTERS, AFP