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Travelers to Thailand are getting mixed messages on restrictions amid coronavirus

A worker disinfects Hua Lamphong Railway Station to avoid the spread of the COVID-19.

Adisorn Chabsungnoen | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

As Thailand works to contain the spread of the new coronavirus that has already infected more than 90,000 across the globe, authorities have sent conflicting messages about restrictions for travelers.

On Tuesday, Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in Facebook post that all visitors from “high-risk zones” would be required to quarantine themselves for 14 days, according to a Bangkok Post report. The post, which was quickly deleted “without explanation,” reportedly mentioned Singapore, Japan, China and South Korea.

A day later, the Singapore branch of the Tourism Authority of Thailand said in a Facebook post that it has “not received any official government announcement on the quarantine/restriction for visitors from Singapore traveling to Thailand.” The agency also said in a separate release on Mar. 3 that “Thailand does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions against China or other affected areas.”

The mixed signals come as the coronavirus hits Thailand’s tourism sector, which accounts for a significant proportion of the country’s economy. 

As of Monday, the World Health Organization reported 43 confirmed cases in Thailand, including one death.

A spokesperson from the Royal Thai Embassy in Singapore previously told CNBC that passengers arriving from Singapore “need not have to go for quarantine, if they are healthy.”

Charnvirakul previously suggested scrapping visas-on-arrival for Chinese travelers, which was opposed by the tourism minister and private sector, according to the Bangkok Post.

Tourism’s importance to Thailand

The tourism sector accounts for a significant proportion of the country’s economy.

In a note dated Feb. 17, analysts at Fitch Solutions said tourism receipts “account for 13-14% of Thailand’s
economy and the sector provides around one-in-six jobs.” 

Fitch cut its 2020 real GDP forecast for Thailand from 3.0% to 2.0%, highlighting “the Thai economy as one of the most vulnerable in the Asia region to the impact of the coronavirus.”

The analysts said the outbreak poses “significant challenges” for Thailand, especially moves like the Chinese government’s order suspending international tour sales and travel restrictions in multiple Chinese provinces.

“Chinese tourists make up 27.6% of international tourists to Thailand and have been a key source of growth to the sector in recent years, as the Thai baht’s strength and reduced interest from Europe has posed challenges,” Fitch said.