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Reopening of Thailand - Dispatch 7

Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
This is the continuation of my special dispatches about flying into Thailand during the first week of the reopening to fully vaccinated tourists who are coming from one of 63 countries and territories. To qualify for the “Test and Go” program, you also need to be at least 21 days in one of these countries. In my case, I flew out from Thailand and only spent six days in the UK before returning. Initially they said I would have to do the 7-day Sandbox program. But then they realised that would cause problems to Thais flying out for short holidays and also businessmen. So, they have now created a new exception and I only have to stay one night. Today’s edition is about the flight from London to Bangkok, going through Immigration, the transfer to the hotel, and finishing with the RT-PCR test. My final special dispatch will be sent out tomorrow and will have the news about the results and what happened next, as well as a brief summary of the process I just went through.

The day before my flight, I received the QR Code for Thailand Pass (it took 24 hours to issue) and the test results for my Day 2 RT-PCR test (that took 30 hours for them to send to me by email). This test was actually done for the UK government, but I also needed the same test for my flight to Thailand. So I was killing two birds with one stone. My Thailand Pass contains all of the information that I had submitted which included passport, hotel booking, vaccine certificate and insurance. For the latter, they accepted my digital social security card. The confirmation email I received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that I did not need to print out the QR Code and that I could just show it on my smartphone. They also said I needed to show three things in Bangkok: QR Code (either on smartphone or printed if I didn’t have one), my printed negative test results, and my passport. That’s it. Very much simpler compared to the COE process where you have to print out all of your documents and these then have to be checked both in London and in Thailand.
Things started to go slightly wrong once I reached the check-in counter for Thai Airways at Heathrow airport. As Thailand Pass was only just launched a couple of days ago, they have never seen the QR Code before. What was worse, they had no idea what to do with it as they didn’t have a QR code reader. In Thailand, everyone has them on their phones but apparently not so in the UK. So, she insisted that I showed print-outs of every single document as if I was using the COE system. She also wanted me to print out the QR Code which kind of defeated the purpose. To be clear here, they weren’t collecting the documents themselves. They were just following instructions for the old COE system where everyone must have print outs of all of their documents before boarding the flight. Luckily, I had them all apart from the QR Code of course. She wanted me to go and find somewhere to print it. Finally, I managed to persuade her that they have QR Code readers in Bangkok and there was no need to print it. Luckily I was also able to find one of the Thai Airways staff who had an iPhone and so I was able to show her how it worked. 
But that wasn’t my only problem. A recent change to the rules allowed me to use my social security (SSO) instead of taking out a new insurance policy. She wanted me to print out the policy but of course, SSO doesn’t have one. She said I must have a policy that says I have Covid-19 coverage up to $50,000. Which also wasn’t accurate as they changed that for expats to any insurance policy. It didn’t have to be specific for covid. I tried to explain to her that social security was a bit like the NHS and I get free treatment in the hospital. I was only able to persuade her in the end by saying that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wouldn’t have issued the Thailand Pass to me if they weren’t happy with the insurance. Obviously these minor problems will go away once more people start using the Thailand Pass. I was obviously the first person using social security for insurance and one of the first to use the QR Code.
Just a quick note about Heathrow Airport. All of the shops and restaurants are open as normal unlike at Suvarnbhumi airport. On flight side in Bangkok there weren’t any restaurants open. Just one coffee shop and some shops selling sandwiches and snacks. Though hopefully the situation in Bangkok will start to change as more people begin to fly on international flights. But when it comes to airports, I much prefer Suvarnabhumi airport as they have more charging points for your electronic devices. Just a minor thing really. 
The flight on Thai Airways went smoothly. When we flew to the UK last week, they were all wearing protective clothing including hair nets. But for the return journey, they wore their regular clothing plus masks. The flight this time had more people, though still a fraction of what it would have been pre-covid times. The flight to London had 50 people and the flight to Bangkok had 100 people. In my three-seat row, I was in the aisle seat and the other person was in the window seat. So no-one between us. Which is good because the High Risk Contact rules say that if your immediate neighbour, either to your left or to your right, tests positive, then you have to go to the hospital too for ten days. From what I could see, this pattern was repeated around the aircraft, apart from people who were obvious couples. They did make a couple of announcements saying that you couldn’t change seats due to contact tracing. But once we took off, some people, including myself, moved to empty rows so we could lie down to get some sleep. 
Everyone wore their masks throughout the flight. The only exception was during the two meals that they served. As I noted on the outbound flight, Boeing aircraft have HEPA filters and I was confident that the air had been scrubbed clean. My CO2 meter also told me that that there was some form of ventilation as CO2 levels were reasonably low. Certainly much lower than the taxi ride to the airport. So, I wasn’t concerned about taking my mask off briefly to eat. 
We landed safely shortly before 6:00 p.m. We disembarked from the airplane at 6:05am and were in the van leaving the airport at 6:49am. Which wasn’t bad. But I think we were lucky as there was only our flight landing at this time and only 100 people on the aircraft. Someone sent me a picture of their arrival yesterday when four flights landed around the same time. As everyone was still using COE, there were multiple documents to be checked and it was more than three hours before he left the airport. 
A short distance from the gate we came to an area where there were many chairs set up. We just kept walking to the far end as it was empty. However, if there are several flights landing at the same time, you might have to sit and wait here. But someone gave me a tip yesterday that they were only checking that you had all of the documents printed out and had them in the right order. So he suggested just keep walking if you are prepared or if you have Thailand Pass.
I reached the queue for checking COE and Thailand Pass documents at 6:07am (3 minutes after disembarking) and I was finished here by 6:12am. Very  fast. At the counter, I told him I had a QR Code and handed over my negative Covid test and my passport with TM6 and boarding pass. He then asked for my vaccine certificate which was unexpected. I told him it was on the QR Code but he said he still wanted to see it. I gave him my hospital certificate. For the entire trip, I never once used the yellow vaccine passport. That was it. I was really disappointed he didn’t scan my QR Code after all of the effort that went into getting it. He just took my word that I had one. It is possible they will scan this in the future once people stop arriving with COE. Or maybe their scanners weren’t working today. However, he didn’t ask to see my insurance or my hotel booking unlike what they were doing with the COE people.
Next was Immigration. All of the counters were manned and there were no queues. I arrived here at 6:14 a.m. and left at 6:30 a.m. The reason it took so long for me was because the dates on my re-entry permit were stamped in the wrong place and she had to call her supervisor. Otherwise I would have gone through here in a couple of minutes. I was also surprised they didn’t scan the QR Code either as I was led to believe Immigration would do this. But then, unlike the COE application, the Thailand Pass form didn’t ask for my visa. I also want to add that there was talk earlier that you don’t need to fill out the T6 arrival/departure card. But that is not true. They handed them out on the airplane and they asked to see it at Immigration. 
Next up was baggage claim. My bag was one of the last to come out at 6:37 a.m., about half an hour after disembarking from the airplane. Which isn’t bad at all. But many people actually left the airport before me due to my delay at Immigration. So for some people it was much quicker. 
After Customs, there was an area set up with desks where people were waiting from various hotels. They checked my name and then called the hotel transfer van. My hotel had a choice of shared van or private limousine. The driver was dressed in protective clothing. He sprayed our luggage and we sat in the back of the van. There was a plastic partition between us and the driver. Total time from plane to van was 45 minutes.
As it was a shared van, I was a little concerned about air quality. The CO2 reading started at 559ppm but quickly rose to 2066ppm. Which meant I was breathing in air that had been in someone else’s lungs. I asked the driver to turn off recirculating air. Which he did though he was confused why I would want that. The ventilation and air quality then improved quite quickly. These drivers really need to be taught about the fact covid is airborne and that ventilation and filtration is very important. 
I arrived at my hotel in Bangkok at 7:31am. Check-in was done in an area outside. She asked for my passport and departure card. She also said I should download the MorChana app. But she didn’t check to see if I had done it. Nor did she say what I should do with it. Next was the RT-PCR test. This was done by someone from the partner hospital. This was slightly more painful than the one I had done in London on Monday. She also gave me an ATK test kit to do by myself on day 6-7. She said I should take a picture of the result and email it back to the hotel.
I was in my room by 7:43am, 90 minutes after getting off the plane. You have to stay in your room until the results come back.  She said this would be at around noon tomorrow. Which is an incredible 27 hours waiting time. I don’t call that Test and Go. That is Test, be quarantined for a day or so, then go. That wasn’t mentioned in the tourist brochures. The TAT were even suggesting the wait would be 6-7 hours. During my booking, the hotel actually said if I did the test before 8:00 a.m. then the results would be back by 5:00 p.m. on the same day. Meaning I could check out and go home. So, I am not really happy they changed it. Some people said they were luckier at their hotel. One guy said he had his test at 10:30am and had the results by 6:00 p.m. the same day. Even though he had paid for a night and three meals, he decided to check out straight away. 
One interesting point is that they don’t give you a keycard, and so you cannot leave your room. If you do for some reason, you might not be able to get back in if the door slams shut. She also said that when I check out, someone will come up to escort me down. I am not sure if that means there is a lock on the lift so people without keycards cannot use it. I will check tomorrow. Obviously you can go down the fire exit in case of an emergency.
In my hotel room, I scanned a QR Code to order my three meals that were included in the package. I had choices between Asian and Western meals. I could also choose time slots for the food to be delivered. They then knock on the door when they deliver. When I went out to collect my first meal, I saw just the food on a table in front of my room. The guy must have quickly run away. 
I am going to finish this newsletter now and will write a final special dispatch tomorrow once I have received my test results. I will also do a summary. I just want to add a bit about the hotel as people keep asking me where I am staying. I don’t really want to mention the name as I am not really happy with them. They were very slow about answering inquiries during the booking process and kept making mistakes. I also spotted that my room was 500 baht more expensive compared to Thai people. Mine was 5,200 baht and theirs was 4,700 baht. Everyone got the same package deal and same room. This included airport transfer, swab test by RT-PCR, three meals, and an antigen rapid kit test. On check-in I did ask about this and they said it wasn’t a hotel charge. They said that the swab test is subsidised and that foreigners must pay 500 baht more for this. Other people have now confirmed with me that when they saw their itemised bill that they were also being charged 500 baht more by the hospital. So it would seem to be like that for all hospitals. Though unless you book in with a Thai person you probably won’t get to see that two price policy.
Anyway, time to sign off. Thanks again for reading this far and I hope to see you next time. 
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Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand @richardbarrow

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Samut Prakan, Thailand