Thai authorities said Thursday that travellers from China could enter the kingdom without pre-departure coronavirus tests, hoping their return would be a shot in the arm for the country’s tourism sector recovery.
China has experienced a surge in infections and its hospitals and crematoriums have been inundated after Beijing last month wound back tight restrictions.
The United States, Canada, Japan and France are among the countries that have imposed new rules requiring travellers from China to provide negative Covid tests as concerns grow over the spike in cases.
But Thai authorities on Thursday said all countries should be treated the same.
“Thailand does not require Covid test results from tourists from any country,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters on Thursday following a meeting between health, tourism and transportation officials.
China was the largest source of foreign tourists for Thailand before the pandemic, with almost 11 million arrivals in 2019, according to government data.
Tourism accounted for nearly 20 percent of national income before the pandemic, and tough border restrictions at the height of the health crisis took a toll on hotels, restaurants and tour operators across the country.
“This is an opportunity to restore our economic situation and recover from losses we suffered for nearly three years,” Anutin said.
Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said he expected about 60,000 Chinese nationals to enter Thailand this month and for numbers to steadily rise.
“We expect Chinese tourists to come to Thailand after Chinese New Year,” Tourism Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakan said.
In December Thailand clocked its 10 millionth international visitor for 2022 — a major increase on the 430,000 seen in 2021 but still way off the 40 million arrivals of 2019.
Thai officials are forecasting some 20 million arrivals in 2023, though they believe Chinese tourists could push the figure up to around 25 million.