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Tourism-reliant Thailand shelves 'travel bubble' plan as Asia COVID-19 cases rise

Tourism-reliant Thailand shelves 'travel bubble' plan as Asia COVID-19 cases rise

Local tourists visiting the market next to the giant statue of famous Buddhist monk Luang Pu Thuat in a park outside Ayutthaya, north of the capital Bangkok. (Photo: AFP/Mladen Antonov)

BANGKOK: Thailand has delayed plans for a "travel bubble" agreement with select countries as new daily COVID-19 cases rise in parts of Asia, putting pressure on its vital tourism industry and complicating efforts to revive its battered economy.

Thailand first proposed the idea in June to allow movement between select countries that have low infection numbers, without the need for travellers to undergo quarantine.

READ: Thailand tightens borders over renewed COVID-19 fears

But that has been shelved, officials said, amid second and third waves in East Asian countries that previously had their outbreaks under control.

"We are delaying discussion of travel bubble arrangements for now given the outbreak situation in other countries," Thailand's coronavirus taskforce spokesman, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, told Reuters.

Despite more than two months without confirmed local transmission and recording only 3,300 cases, Southeast Asia's second-largest economy is facing its worst crisis in several decades.

Foreign arrivals plunged 66 per cent in the first six months of the year, to 6.69 million. The industry has warned that 1.6 trillion baht (US$51.50 billion) of revenue could be wiped out this year.

FILE PHOTO: Wat Arun temple and its reflection on a mirror are seen on the banks of Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, Thailand July 25, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File photo

By comparison, Thailand had a record 39.8 million tourists in all of 2019, spending 1.93 trillion baht.

READ: ‘It shouldn’t have happened’: Thai PM apologises for lapses in COVID-19 measures as imported cases spark health scare

"Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea were among those considered (for a travel bubble) because those areas had a low number of cases, but now they were in double-digits so discussions were put on hold," Taweesin said, referring to new daily infections.

Reviving talks would depend on the situation in each country, which the taskforce was assessing daily, he said, adding that was a widely accepted industry view.

The island of Phuket has instead proposed receiving direct flights from those countries, with tourists and business executives doing two-week quarantines in their hotels before going out.

"We are asking for travel, charter flights, into Phuket," Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, told Reuters.

Although demand for long stays would be lower, it would be a start, with occupancy of 40 per cent to 50 per cent sufficient for hotels to survive and avert job losses, Bhummikitti added.

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Source: Reuters/ad

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