Thailand: Mass vaccination ahead of expected return of tourists

Thailand launched its massive COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Monday as the country tries to stave off a third wave of pollution and prepares to reopen its borders to international tourists.

The state plans to inject some six million in June, initially focusing on Bangkok where the third wave began and the tourist island of Phuket.

The campaign comes amid strong criticism of the government’s sluggishness of its vaccination strategy and concerns about supplies.

As of Monday, 25 vaccination sites, some in shopping malls and supermarkets, had been set up in the Thai capital to vaccinate up to 70,000 people a day, most with the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine.

Thailand has managed to keep infections very low throughout 2020 due to strict travel restrictions and rapid isolation of positive cases.

People squeeze a cotton ball at their injection site after being vaccinated against COVID-19 in Narathiwat, Thailand, June 7, 2021 (AFP – Madari Tohlala)

But the outbreak broke out in a nightlife district in Bangkok last month, and the total number of cases rapidly increased to nearly 180,000, and more than 1,200 deaths.

“They (the government) were attentive, couldn’t prepare or come with anything on time, and they were careless,” Off, 37, told AFP after taking the injection at Siam Paragon Mall in Bangkok.

Thailand’s vital tourism sector has been disrupted by strict travel restrictions, with a strict two-week hotel quarantine for all visitors.

Officials hope the vaccination campaign will allow travel restrictions to be eased in the coming months, starting with Phuket in July.

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A man is vaccinated against COVID-19 in Narathiwat, Thailand on June 7, 2021 (AFP - Madari Tohlala)

A man is vaccinated against COVID-19 in Narathiwat, Thailand on June 7, 2021 (AFP – Madari Tohlala)

According to the plan, which should be formalized this week, fully vaccinated tourists will be able to stay on the island and enjoy its famous beaches without going through quarantine.

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