Tourists wear masks as they tour the Grand Palace complex on Jan. 26, 2020.
Tourists wear masks as they tour the Grand Palace complex on Jan. 26, 2020.

Any decision on Chinese visas should be driven by expert consultation – not internet paranoia.

As the cases of coronavirus infections are surging in China, surpassing those of the SARS outbreak nearly two decades ago, the demand for Thailand to shut its doors on visitors from mainland China is growing by the day.

Although the Chinese authorities have since halted outgoing flights from Wuhan, the virus’ epicenter, many on the Thai internet fear the new strain of coronavirus can still be brought by tens of thousands of other Chinese who landed in Thai airports. 

Data released by Thai authorities say about 930,000 Chinese nationals visited Thailand from Jan. 1 to Jan. 28. Approximately 227,000 of them are still here in the kingdom.

A quick glance through the internet quickly reveals anxiety on a national scale. For example, we asked our readers earlier this week whether Chinese citizens should be barred from entering the country. Of 1,200 votes, 80 percent said yes. 

As the Cabinet is set to debate the border issue tomorrow, several points should be heeded. 

First, no country in Southeast Asia has yet set a precedence by imposing a total ban on Chinese nationals, contrary to an erroneous claim that has been widely shared online which states that Singapore and South Korea have already enacted such a ban. 

Even the Philippines, which welcomes at least 7.5 million tourists from China, are opting for a limited restriction: a suspension of visas upon arrivals for Chinese visitors, though travelers from the mainland with other types of valid visas can still enter the country. 

On the other hand, Hong Kong, due to its close proximity with China, took a more drastic approach by suspending permits for mainlanders to visit the semi-autonomous territory. The move has been hailed by several experts as a step that can help limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

Thailand would do well to learn from its neighbors and formulate its own responses in this subject matter. 

Our nation’s reliance on tourism should also be given serious consideration. Putting a complete ban on Chinese visitors would be effectively putting a tenth of our national income in a chokehold – with the livelihoods and careers of millions of Thais in the tourism industry feeling the brunt most keenly.

A rational discussion that considers any possible consequence pertaining to 10.99 million Chinese visitors to Thailand is not greed, nor is it “placing money over well-being” of Thai citizens. A paranoia-driven ban risks repeating the the Thai idiom of riding an elephant, and trampling large swathes of forest, to catch a grasshopper. 

Therefore, decisions on any change to Thailand’s current visas policy concerning the Chinese should be made only after extensive consultation and conversations with experts in relevant fields, such as public health, epidemiology, and tourism.

A science-based policy, not one borne of panic, is desperately needed – especially in these times of crisis.