Thailand: Prayut walks back October reopening for the country

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha walked back the government’s deadline to open the country by October during censure debates on Wednesday and said he would only do so if it was “possible.”

Prayut said in June that he would reopen the country by October and that Thais must learn to live with Covid-19 or risk damaging the country’s economy further.

Covid-19 numbers spiked after his June statement with daily infection rates rising above 20,000 cases per day before the government implemented mandatory lockdown measures.

After being grilled by the opposition during Wednesday’s censure debate, Prayut seemed to back down from his June statement and said he was only committed to the October timeframe if it were “possible.”

“I said that if it is possible to reopen the country in October we will reopen, if not then we open it sector by sector,” the prime minister said. “Even if we are open, there will not be that many visitors because the pandemic is still there.”

Prayut pointed to the success of the Phuket Sandbox model as a way to gradually reopen the country. During his speech to parliament, the one-time coup-leader said that he was in negotiations with many countries about tourism and travel exchanges.

Thailand saw nearly 40 million tourists visit the country in 2019 with tourists spending more than 1.93 trillion baht in the country.

That number has dried up to nearly negligible levels in 2021, with the country still mostly closed to international travellers due to the third wave of the pandemic.