A collapse in hotel bookings in Rayong and public confidence in domestic travel have ensued after an Egyptian military delegate who stayed at a hotel in Rayong was found to have been infected with Covid-19.
The infected individual, part of a 31-member Egyptian delegation, was treated more leniently due to his diplomatic status. The group had exited and re-entered Thailand several times during July 8-11, at one point, visiting Chengdu City in China before flying back to U-Tapao International Airport in Rayong province with no quarantine requirements.
Local media reported that members from the delegation also visited two malls in Rayong, during which CCTV footage showed only about one-tenth of them wore masks.
After news broke that the Covid-19 test for one delegate had returned positive the day after he left Thailand, widespread panic ensued, with many Thai locals cancelling their Rayong holiday bookings, including those over the long weekend at the end of July. Anger also rose among hoteliers and business owners in Rayong whom, having emerged from 3.5 months of lockdown, were banking on the upcoming holiday to boost their income.
Surrounding provinces were also affected. On nearby Koh Samet island, many lower-tier hotels reported 80-100 per cent cancellations; four- to five-star hotels and major brands were, however, less affected. Pattaya’s hotels also received cancellations in response to the incident.
This past week, the nine-year-old daughter of a visiting Sudanese attaché also tested positive for Covid. The family had been staying in a condominium on Sukhuvmit Road in Bangkok. By Friday, beauty clinics along Sukhumvit had reportedly received 80-100 per cent booking cancellations due to virus fears.
The double whammy sparked profuse apologies from the premier and other government members, and led to the tightening of restrictions for diplomats entering Thailand.
Though only seven individuals are known to have had direct contact with the Egyptian, the D’Varee Diva Central hotel and Laemtong mall in Rayong have closed temporarily, alongside 127 of the province’s schools. Central Plaza Rayong, which said it was not visited by the patient, remains open.
Since the incident, Thai health authorities have rushed to trace any contacts the Egyptian might have had during the visit. To date, nearly 4,000 locals from Rayong have tested negative for the coronavirus. The incident has also put Thailand’s Thai Chana tracing app to the test. Through the app, 1,882 locals visiting those malls during the same hours were alerted that they were at risk and urged to quarantine for two weeks.
The Thai government has pleaded with the local public not to lose confidence in the province. On Friday, a Democrat party senator also visited Rayong and issued a briefing there in a bid to help restore the public image of Rayong as a tourist destination, and to reassure locals that the risk of another outbreak was very low.
Several provinces have also announced they will start requiring travellers from Rayong and Bangkok to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
The twin incidents have undermined the Thai government’s efforts to revive domestic tourism. As part of those efforts, the government had coincided its WeTravelTogether campaign – which saw more than 1.9 million sign-ups on the opening date for registration – with the rescheduled Songkran holidays this month.