BANGKOK — The Ministry of Public Health on Friday announced plans for a quarantine for travelers who arrived in Thailand from four countries and two territories hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
Ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati said the 14-day self-quarantine will apply to both Thais and foreigners traveling from South Korea, China, Macao, Hong Kong, Italy and Iran, which have been classified as “dangerous communicable disease areas” in a Thursday’s announcement.
However, there was no mention on when the protocol will be in place. Latest information suggests there is no mandatory quarantine being imposed on travelers from those countries.
“They will be subject to four measures: they will be isolated, they will have to report themselves, they must be in communication [with the authorities], and they must wait for further instructions,” Rungrueng said.
The self-quarantine will take place either at residences or hotel rooms. The spokesman said the quarantine will be enforced by a 2015 law on communicable diseases.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday afternoon, health ministry sec-gen Sukhum Kanchanapimai said foreign travelers from those nations will be given two options: either quarantine themselves in their accommodation for 14 days voluntarily, or spend those days inside government’s quarantine centers.
“At this moment, we are asking for cooperation,” Sukhum said. “But if the person does not cooperate by placing themselves in a self-quarantine, health officials are given legal power to invite them to quarantine facilities.”
Rungrueng and Sukhum did not specify when the measure will come into effect.
The news marked a possible escalation in the Thai government’s response to the epidemic – which could deal a further blow to an already ailing tourism industry – and followed days of confusion over whether the quarantine will be implemented.
Public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul initially wrote on his Facebook on Tuesday that a quarantine will be imposed, “no exception,” for those six countries and territories plus an addition of France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan. He later deleted the post on the same day without any explanation.
The government later did designate those countries and territories, without Germany and France, as “dangerous communicable disease areas” in an announcement on Thursday, but the document made no mention of a quarantine.
Yet in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Rungreung said all arrivals from these places – including those that transit through them – will have to provide the authorities with their address and travel plan and be self-quarantined for 14 days.
At the news conference on Friday, Sukhum said transit travelers will not be subject to quarantine as long as they do not leave the airports.
Quarantine, or Leave
Speaking to Khaosod English, the spokesman confirmed the measure will apply to both Thais and foreigners, though he did not say when the quarantine order will actually be in effect.
Regarding foreigners, Rungreung said, they will have to inform the immigration police where they’ll be staying in Thailand upon their arrival. The immigration will then instruct the hotels to keep the foreigners inside their premises for 14 days; any violation must be immediately reported to the immigration.
If the foreigners do not wish to undergo the quarantine, they will be given an option to leave the country, Rungreung said. However, ministry sec-gen Sukhum did not mention this option at a news conference held in the afternoon. Sukhum also did not say when travelers will be asked to self-quarantine.
Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn said his agency will inform travelers about the new measure, and added that the tourism sector is monitoring the situation closely.
“Public health comes first. We have to follow the government’s decision to prevent the outbreak situation in the country from escalating to Phase 3,” Yuthasak said, referring to a threshold of a worst-case scenario epidemic. “I have ordered local TAT offices in those countries to inform travellers of the new measure.”
The governor said Thailand’s tourism industry is hit hard by the decline of international travellers, especially from China, though he hoped that domestic travellers would be able to help reverse the trend.
“What we could do right now is to rely on domestic tourists. We can’t rely on travellers from other countries since they have imposed travel advisory to our country as well,” Yuthasak said.
Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra