Thailand’s Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, located in the heart of Bangkok, reopened to the public on 1 November. As the Southeast Asian nation recorded a four-month low in COVID-19 cases, Thailand is reopening a number of religious and cultural sites to tourists.
Prior to the 1 November reopening, foreign tourists were required to quarantine on arrival before setting out on planned travels. Now visitors from a list of 60 countries classified as low-risk can enter Thailand without quarantine. Among the first tourists to arrive at Bankok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport were from Japan.
The move is projected to vastly help the Thai economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism. The opening marks the end of nearly 18 months of restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus. Arriving tourists will be required to show proof of vaccination and a negative test result. They will then be tested again on arrival. If they test positive for the virus, they will be assessed and will need to stay in a government-approved hotel or hospital for observation. If they test negative both times they will be permitted to travel freely, the Thai prime minister has said.
Dhanabodi Kullohamongkong, a souvenir shop owner near the Grand Palace, resumed his business after nearly two years of closure or limited operations. “I decided to reopen the shop today as I expect a better situation and more tourists to come. I strongly support the reopening as we have to earn a living while living with the pandemic longer than we were expecting,” he said on Monday. (Kyodo News)
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, offered words of caution: “The sentiment on the ground is that the infection numbers are still high and the government’s vaccine management has been inept . . . [that] lives are still at risk and reopening too soon is still not optimal.” (VOA News)
At the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and other Buddhist sites, safety requirements still include wearing a mask and onsite temperature checks. While tourism contributes to the funding of many Buddhist organizations in Thailand, the majority have fared well through the pandemic shutdowns. Many Buddhists have used their resources to help fellow Thais, opening soup kitchens, known in Thai as rong than, in the early months of the pandemic.*
Recorded daily cases of COVID-19 peaked in mid-August at nearly 22,000, but by late October they were down below 9,000. Amid the surge in cases in August, the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan sent 150,000 vaccine doses to Thailand in an effort to boost inoculation rates.** To date, Thailand has reported 1,935,442 cases of COVID-19, with 19,394 deaths attributed to the disease.
The country’s strong lockdown measures, while economically difficult for many, helped to keep cases very low before the Alpha and Delta variants emerged. In early April, Thailand had just 28,889 confirmed cases in total. As case numbers rose, Buddhist monks were among the first to receive vaccines. This was due in part to the activities of monks, which often involve meeting people face to face.***
* Buddhist Temples Become Soup Kitchens Across Thailand (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Bhutan Sends 150,000 Vaccine Doses to Thailand amid COVID-19 Surge (Buddhistdoor Global)
*** Thailand’s Buddhist Monks Receive COVID-19 Vaccinations (Buddhistdoor Global)
Thailand to reopen for some vaccinated visitors on 1 November (BBC)
Bangkok, other parts of Thailand reopen to foreign tourists (Kyodo News)
Thai Businesses Eager for Foreign Tourists’ Imminent Return (VOA News)
Grand Palace to open up Monday (Bangkok Post)
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