March 6, 2020 / 1:17 PM / 22 days ago

Tourism-driven Thailand softens 'compulsory' self-isolation language

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Officials in tourism-reliant Thailand sought on Friday to ease worries about new self-quarantine measures for arrivals from six countries and territories with coronavirus, a day after announcing compulsory isolation. 

People walk throught a 'sanitizing gate' spraying disinfectans againts coronavirus before entering intyo a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

There had been days of confusion as officials gave different explanations of regulations that could further damage tourism, which accounts for about 12% of Thailand’s economy. 

South Korea, China, Macao, Hong Kong, Italy and Iran were designated on Thursday as “dangerous communicable disease areas”.

Health Ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kiphati told Reuters on Thursday that arrivals from these places would be fined 20,000 baht ($630) if they did not self-quarantine for 14 days at home or in a hotel room, “where they have to report themselves to the authorities every day or officials will come to check on them”.

On Friday, however, other health officials took a slightly softer line.

“For now, we are recommending people to exercise home quarantine. But if you don’t follow that, then we will use the law to take you to government quarantine centers,” said Sukhum Kanchanapimai, the health ministry’s permanent secretary.

Nevertheless, the government information department’s verified Twitter account on Friday repeated the threat of a 20,000 baht fine for those who failed to self-quarantine.

Tanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of the Department of Disease Control, told reporters the health ministry would issue regulations requiring all arrivals from the six areas to report their health condition daily.

“If people don’t follow the rules or falsely report their condition, like they have a cough but said they do not, then they would be breaching an official order and that will be punishable,” Tanarak said, adding that the daily health report could be done by phone, mobile phone app, or other channels that the ministry will create.

The ministry also said that the measures could become stricter depending on the circumstances.

On Tuesday, health minister Anutin Charnvirakul had posted on his Facebook page that all arrivals from Japan, Germany, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, France, Singapore, Italy or Iran “must be quarantined for 14 days” - before deleting the post a few hours later.

Other ministries have issued different regulations on home quarantine.

The education ministry recommended to schools that children who had traveled from France, Germany, Japan, Singapore or Taiwan stay home under quarantine, according to an email sent to parents on Friday from the International School of Bangkok, even though the health ministry did not recommend this.

Thailand has recorded a total of 48 coronavirus cases since January, including a case reported on Friday of a 43-year-old British man who had traveled from London via Hong Kong and had been admitted to hospital on Tuesday.

There has been one death so far.

The government expects foreign tourist arrival numbers to fall 5 million this year from 39.8 million last year, due to the outbreak.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Panu Wongcha-um and Chayut Setboonsarng, writing by Kay Johnson

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