After being the first country to report a case outside of China, Thailand did an excellent job of containing the Covid virus throughout 2020. It was looking forward to reopening the Kingdom in 2021 for both long and short-term visitors alike. Unfortunately, the latest 3rd wave of Covid has been the worst that Pattaya and the entire country has had to deal with. The latest figures do not make good reading for the government or the people who rely on visitors who come in their millions every year to sustain the livelihoods of Thais working in the tourist sector.
The crucial thing will now be the authorities’ response over the coming weeks. Even though the figures in Thailand bear no comparison to the vast numbers reported across other parts of the world, it will be the country’s ability to handle their cases and the rollout of a vaccine that will be decisive.
The 14-day quarantine for new arrivals recently eased to 10 days has now been reinstated back to 14 days. However, arrival time at the ASQ, the first day and the day of departure may result in up to 16 days in real terms. This measure alone virtually brings the curtain down on any thoughts of tourists planning a short-term visit to the Kingdom. It must be a cruel blow to the thousands of businesses who rely on these holidaymakers, of whom there were some 39 million in 2019.
What is vitally important is the ability of the health infrastructure of any given country to deal with the severe cases that the pandemic throws up. Currently, the relatively strong healthcare system in Thailand is holding up well. Still, any significant increase in numbers will soon put the facilities of the Kingdom under pressure, leading to more criticism of the authorities and unrest in the general population.
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The latest outbreak appears to be centred in Bangkok, with nearly half of all the latest cases being found in the capital. Rumours abound as to whether other areas such as Chonburi, the region that houses Pattaya, have an easing of restrictions because there are not so many cases in the areas surrounding Bangkok. What may help is that with the current travel restrictions, colour zoning, and sensible precautions are taken, the virus will be brought under control. Whatever the circumstances, large-scale countrywide vaccination programmes are considered to be the long-term solution to the pandemic.
It will be a large scale undertaking – consider the prospect of vaccinating the country’s entire population. Thailand and the UK have approximately the same population count, but Thailand is over twice the size of the UK. In addition, it has 3000 Kilometres of land borders with its northernmost border with Myanmar and the southernmost border with Malaysia thousands of kilometres apart. The 73 provinces within Thailand’s borders each have their governor and own autonomous powers, which only adds to the logistical and political difficulties.
The current timeline issued by the government says that the entire population will have at least their first vaccination by the end of the year, with the more vulnerable members of the community having their second jabs too. Hopefully, they will be able to stick to this timeline, and the further we get into this year, the more optimistic people will become. Over 100 million doses of the approved vaccine have already been ordered. Hopefully, vaccinations are already underway, and let’s hope they will complete the enormous logistical task that the authorities have before them successfully.
In Pattaya, there has been much speculation and growing concern as to whether non-Thais from the working, retired, and ex-pat communities will have access to the vaccine. Scaremongering stating that vaccines will be available to Thais only has already led to Pattaya’s inhabitants leaving to return to their home countries to be sure of getting inoculated. It certainly has made the 3rd wave of Covid the worst so far for Pattaya. In addition, the ex-pat community migration will lead to the closure of yet more businesses that have already been suffering from a lack of international tourists.
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There certainly needs to be a concise, clear message to reassure non-Thais that they will be vaccinated without leaving the country. Either through a national campaign or by the purchase of vaccines from the private hospital sector. The media is keen to promote the message that non-Thais will get the vaccine without leaving the Kingdom, although exact dates and details remain sketchy. It will hopefully stop the rot and persuade business owners to stay.
Already some smaller consumer investments have been put on hold as a result of all this uncertainty. However, larger, more critical projects are visible around Pattaya and appear to be actively forging ahead.
Thailand still has a tremendous amount of goodwill as a destination worldwide and will recover from this pandemic. For example, a recent poll in China named Thailand as their favourite destination by some distance from the rest of the world, and people are willing to come back regardless of how long they will have to wait.
A resurgence in both the hospitality and real estate sectors could be the springboard for recovery. An increase in longer-term investment from Hong Kong, for example, is also being put forward as changes in that region make the placing of money overseas more attractive.
Pattaya itself can look forward to a brighter future despite its current difficulties; it has too much to offer for it to be otherwise. Already the powers that be are promoting a fundamental change to the city, christening this transformation “Neo Pattaya”. It is displayed on the entrance sign of the famous Walking Street.
What is ardently hoped for is that the enforced change to businesses in Pattaya will open up opportunities for new companies to stake their claim in this popular seaside location. This, in turn, will lead to a new type of more family-friendly international and domestic tourist who, along with new residents ex-pat communities and pensioners alike, will enjoy a revived Pattaya emerging from the ashes of the Covid pandemic.