Thailand welcomes tourists back as Bangkok protests heat up

BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Thailand received a group of tourists from China on Tuesday (Oct 20), its first such arrivals since commercial flights were banned in April to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the visitors seemingly undeterred by escalating street demonstrations in Bangkok.

Thirty-nine tourists from Shanghai arrived on Tuesday night, the deputy director of the country’s main Suvarnabhumi Airport, Kittipong Kittikachorn, said in a statement.

Thai public television showed masked tourists exiting the airport, with officials in full protective equipment spraying their luggage with disinfectant. Outside, some of the tourists donned face shields and put on rubber gloves as they prepared to board buses to their hotels.

The arrivals come as anti-government protesters continue to defy a ban on gatherings after authorities declared a severe emergency situation in Bangkok.

The unrest has not impacted interest in the country, Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.

“There have been no cancellations or any enquiries about it so far and people are following the news,” he said.

Student-led rallies, sometimes drawing 10,000 people, have occupied busy intersections for hours before peacefully dispersing. In one incident last week, water cannon was used on demonstrators.

The tourism-reliant country could see just 6.7 million foreign visitors this year, the government says, less than a fifth of a record 39.8 million in 2019.

The government banned commercial flights in April to keep Covid-19 at bay, and new cases have mostly been Thais returning home. The country has reported a total of 3,700 infections.

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New tourist arrivals are on special 90-day visas and must quarantine for two weeks – seven days in their hotel rooms and seven days on their hotel grounds – and test negative three times before they can move around freely.

“Once they pass that they will be able to move to other destinations (within Thailand),” Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said on Thai PBS television.

A second batch of 147 tourists from Guangzhou, China, are due to arrive on Oct 26, with more due next month.

“Winter is coming so more tourists from European countries, United States, Korea and Japan would also like to come visit us around this time,” said Phiphat.

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