BANGKOK, March 26 (Reuters) - Thai authorities on Friday agreed to allow foreigners inoculated against the coronavirus to travel to its biggest holiday island without undergoing quarantine, and announced a new order for five million more doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
With arrival numbers plummeting this past year, tourism-reliant Thailand is racing to secure vaccines for its population and reopen the country to foreigners in a pilot project for vaccine passports.
“If we can inoculate 50% to 60% of the population we can open the country safely and move the economy and tourism forward,” senior health official Kiattiphum Wongraijit said.
Its main vaccination drive is expected to start in June, with the goal of immunising half of its population by year-end.
It will receive an additional five million AstraZeneca doses, as well as five million more doses procured from Sinovac Biotech’s, the health ministry said on Friday.
That would take its overall vaccine order to 73 million doses.
The coronavirus task force on Friday gave the green light to Phuket, a major tourist destination, to receive vaccinated visitors directly from July, without subjecting them to quarantine, after the island inoculates 70% of its residents.
Thailand has until now made entry requirements strict, including mandatory quarantine, which has devastated tourism, but helped limit infections to just 28,577 so far, with 92 fatalities.
From next month, the hotel quarantine period will be halved to seven days for fully vaccinated visitors to Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, Phang Nga and Krabi, Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told a news conference.
By the fourth quarter, the quarantine waiver is expected to be implemented in five holiday destinations, he said.
The central bank expects to see 3 million foreign tourists this year, compared to nearly 40 million in 2019 before the virus struck. (Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Martin Petty)