The return of thousands of students from the UK – where there are now over 2,600 cases, and over 100 deaths – has provoked concern in Asian nations, who have rushed to impose self-quarantine guidelines for UK returnees.
However, contradictory advice from the Thai government on travel from the UK left thousands of UK-based Thai students in panic.
The Civil Aviation Authority published guidelines slightly after midnight on March 19th, stating that Thai citizens would be required to present a “Fit to Fly” health certificate and a certification letter from the Thai Embassy, a Thai Consulate Office or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreigners would have to present a health certificate with more stringent requirements, as well as evidence of health insurance. The regulations go into effect on March 21st.
Earlier that day, at 11AM BKK time on March 18th, the Royal Thai Embassy in London posted a notice stating that Thai citizens would not need any such health certificate. As of 9PM, this notice had been deleted. Yet, this morning Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob said the requirement was not being implemented.
The confusion has been damaging: even on March 17th, two students contacted by the Thai Enquirer were turned away from their Bangkok-bound flights because airlines have been unable to keep up with conflicting guidance. One student, a Taiwanese citizen whose family is based in Bangkok, was turned away at check-in as an Eva Air attendant was confused by shifting regulations. She was later able to board a flight on March 19th.
The requirements struck many as particularly heartless, at a time when it is difficult, if not impossible, to secure a doctor’s appointment in the UK on short notice. “The Thai government is crazy! I’m just trying to go back to my own country!” one Facebook user wrote. Panicked Facebook commenters on the Thai Embassy’s Facebook post said the earliest GP appointment they could get was in two weeks.
“We are Thai citizens, with families, trying to fly back with our own means.” Another commenter wrote, “It is Thailand’s duty to control and quarantine people if we are at risk of infection. But you have to let us fly back without these kinds of restrictions.”
As the Thai government leaves its students stranded, the Singaporean government has taken another approach: helping students get home as quickly and cheaply as possible, and strictly monitoring self-quarantine on their return.
The Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs struck a deal with Singapore Airlines, for flight bookings which prioritize Singaporean and Singaporean PR students with special student prices, for flights from 19 – 31 March 2020. The deal also allows students who have booked travel from April 2020 to change their flights to March, with the aim of getting them on the first available flights home. Additional flight charges would be moderated or waived due to the circumstances.
“Your safety is of utmost importance and rest assured that the Singapore High Commission in London is looking into getting additional flights if there is high unmet demand, including for further arrangements in April,” wrote the government.
Upon return, travelers from the UK and other high-risk countries get a “Stay-Home Notice” (SHN) for a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine. For those with an SHN, text messages are sent throughout the day, returnees are asked to give updates on their location via phone GPS or photographs of their surroundings, and authorities can randomly call and visit homes.
Meanwhile in Thailand, an AoT app that was publicized on March 12th is still not being implemented consistently. Travelers returning from the UK as late as March 16th faced were not asked to download any apps.