Thailand relaxes mask rule to support pandemic-hit tourism

The government says Thailand has lifted rules requiring people to wear masks as of Friday as Covid-19 cases decline and tourism-dependent cases decline. kingdom seeks to lure foreign guests.

Face masks have been mandatory in public places since mid-2021, when the country saw a spate of cases driven by the spread of the Delta variant.

But the kingdom is keen to jumpstart its stuttering economy and is easing Covid-19 restrictions, including lifting most entry requirements from next month.

“Wearing a surgical mask or a cloth mask is a voluntary practice,” Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said in a royal newspaper statement released late on Thursday.

The statement said the health ministry encourages people to continue wearing face masks in crowded or poorly ventilated areas, but there was no direct mention of public transportation.

However, metropolitan Bangkok’s private subway later announced that it would still require passengers using its trains to wear masks.

Although the shift was not immediately visible on the streets of the city, many welcomed the change in policy.

“Lifting (restrictions) will allow people to return to normal life,” said Supanya Pajari, a 26-year-old freelance worker.

American tourist Jake Lucci supported the move but said he would continue to wear a mask.

“I don’t usually wear it, but now I see that most people wear it, so I want to be respectful of what people do,” he said.

The Thai government’s decision comes after Singapore and Cambodia also lifted rules requiring masks to be worn outdoors.

It also precedes the end of the “Thailand Pass” system, which required visitors to register and show proof of vaccination before entering the kingdom.

From July 1, tourists will only be required to carry vaccination certificates or take a Covid-19 test upon arrival.

Thailand’s economy has faltered over the past two years, with growth slowed by a bitter combination of rising cost of living and Covid-19.

The kingdom has experienced a sharp drop in tourism, receiving 1.6 million foreign tourists in the first six months of 2022, according to government figures.

The data showed the figure was just under 20 million in the first six months of 2019.

Covid-19 cases and related deaths have now declined from their peak, with the kingdom reporting around 2,500 infections daily and fewer than 50 deaths per day for more than a month.

At least three-quarters of the population have been vaccinated twice, and about 40 percent have also received a booster.