Opinion: Is Bangkok opening to visitors or not?

CNN Travel raised a question mark over the Thai government’s plans to reopen Bangkok for vaccinated tourists next month, and it’s hard to blame them.

A report listed us in the same bracket as Denmark, Singapore, South Africa and Chile under the headline “Here are 5 countries that are opening up and living with Covid” with the subheading “Thailand: Slow vaccine takeup but it’s opening up anyway”.

A comparison then supported the claim.

Based on the statistics provided by the article, more than 70 per cent of the population in Chile (84 per cent), Denmark (74 per cent) and Singapore (71 per cent) have been fully vaccinated against the virus, compared to less than 20 per cent in Thailand (19 per cent as of September 15).

In some defence, 7.44 million or more than 97 per cent of Bangkok’s registered population have received their first dose, and 2.92 million or 38 per cent have received their full dose. At least the capital is making progress and we are not far off the magic number.

Moreover, some may argue that 70 per cent is merely a number, that there are also new variants that are wreaking havoc in countries and cities where the majority of their populations have been immunized.

However, if the writer had known about the latest remarks made by Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang, the ridicule would have lasted much longer.

Phiphat has been talking to the media about his self-imposed deadline for reopening Bangkok on October 15 since Tuesday, but Anutin said Thursday that he never heard of it.

Given that the tourism and health ministers still haven’t agreed when to reopen the country’s capital, and there is less than a month to go on the initial deadline of “within October,” One wonders what they talk about at cabinet meetings.

Adding to the stupidity was the fact that Phiphat met with Aswin on Monday but Anutin was not there, which allowed him to simply brush the issue aside later.

Aswin also came out on Friday to denied that he had agreed with Phiphat on the date.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration “never said” the capital would reopen by 15 October, he said. “We have to fully vaccinate more than 70 per cent of the population then we can talk.”

“No one else can make this decision for me and my decision is final,” he said.

Aswin said Friday the capital is on track to reach 70-per-cent vaccination level by October 22, but might get there as early as October 10 if efforts are accelerated.

Seeing this mess, it’s easy to see that both Anutin and Aswin are basically trying to avoid being blamed in case the reopening plan backfires and leads to a fourth wave.

There is a lot riding on this issue, so it is getting a lot of attention. The entire tourism industry is dying, and this could be another lifeline after the Phuket Sandbox.

It would be a start for the two ministers and the governor to agree on a reopening date in order to build confidence, but this government is unable to do even that.

No wonder they are laughing at us.

We all need to learn how to cope with Covid until better vaccines come along because even if you are fully vaccinated, you can still contract the virus at the moment.

Considering Thailand’s heavy reliance on tourism and the current military government’s inability to think of anything else to revive the economy, it is imperative to reopen, but caution must also be exercised.

The government must do better to build up confidence or else no one would come and to avoid being a laughingstock for much longer, they can start by talking to each other before setting any more deadlines.

Since the vaccination numbers will speak for themselves, getting to an acceptable level is one of the keys, and if they were not sure about the October 15 deadline because of the gap between the first and second dose, they should not have said anything about it at the first place.

As a matter of fact, they should have already learned all of this from Prayut’s 120-day deadline to “reopen the country” which became the reopening of five more provinces instead.

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