Asia Today: Thailand lets in some foreigners, opens schools

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Teachers and students wearing protective gear to help curb the spread of the coronavirus as they pray before class at Samkhok School in Pathum Thani, outside Bangkok, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Thailand has begun a fifth phase of relaxations of COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the reopening of schools and high-risk entertainment venues such as pubs and massage parlors that had been shut since mid-March. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

MANILA – Thailand has begun a fifth phase of relaxations of COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the reopening of schools and high-risk entertainment venues such as pubs and massage parlors that had been shut since mid-March.

It also is allowing in foreign visitors on a controlled basis, limiting entry to those with existing family or work ties to the country, students, technical experts for businesses, investors and specially invited VIPs. Scheduled passenger flights to Thailand were suspended in early April.

The number of foreign visitors allowed into the country each day is limited to 200, and they are supposed to travel on repatriation flights bringing Thai citizens home. All returnees, foreign and Thai, will be subject to varying degrees of quarantine.

All confirmed coronavirus cases for the past five weeks have been repatriated Thais rather than cases of local transmission, giving the government confidence to lift restrictions. However, it has extended through July a state of emergency, though critics charge it is used to suppress political dissent.

Reopened establishments still have to maintain social distancing rules. A contact tracing app already used at shopping malls is also mandated for the reopened entertainment venues, including “soapy” massage parlors, which are often illegal fronts for sexual services.

The spokesman for the government body coordinating Thailand’s response to the virus expressed pride Wednesday that the European Union has selected the country as one of just 14 whose travelers will be allowed to enter.

The EU decision has little immediate practical effect since Thailand is maintaining a ban on regularly scheduled international flights with no set ending date.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region: