'Fit-to-Fly' imposes high cost on returnees, exposes them to Covid-19 risk: TDRI
The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) has advised the government to suspend the issuance of letters by Royal Thai Embassies and consulates and the use of fit-to-fly medical certificates for people to enter the country to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections.
To prevent Covid-19 people from entering the country, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) had announced that Thais overseas who wish to return home must obtain a fit-to-fly medical certificate issued within 72 hours of departure and a letter issued by the Royal Thai Embassy or consulate.
This measure forced airlines to deny boarding passes to people who did not have all documents. Many overseas Thais complained about the complications of this regulation, while some of them filed a complaint with the Central Administrative Court and started an online campaign #bringthaihome.
Dr Salintorn Thongmeensuk, Research Fellow at TDRI on Saturday (April 4), explained that the incubation period of Covid-19 virus is different for each person.
“The estimate of the incubation period is between 2 to 14 days. However, according to a local government report in China's Hubei province on February 22, some patients have an incubation period of 27 days, so a medical certificate issued within a short period cannot help screen Covid-19 patients,” she said.
“Besides, some countries do not have online registration for issuing letters, so people have to queue up at embassies or consulates for letters, while they have to go to hospitals for medical certificates, raising their risk of infection.”
She further explained that requesting for medical certification overseas is not easy as the Covid-19 situation tends to be more severe.
“In Britain, foreigners from risky countries may be prohibited from visiting hospitals, as a result Thais in London are unable to request a medical certificate,” she said.
“In Japan, a medical certificate is expensive -- 4,841 yen (Bt1,844) per person, but some hospitals may even charge up to 10,000 to 20,000 yen (Bt3,000 to Bt6,000).
“In addition, some hospitals may take more than seven days to issue a medical certificate because the inspection process is quite complicated.”
She said that this measure burdened embassies because the CAAT did not consult with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The sudden fit-to-fly measure also affects airlines unable to adapt their flight plan. In some cases, airlines have to refund tickets to passengers,” she said.
“For example, one day after the fit-to-fly measure came into effect, there were only three passengers on board an Aeroflot Russian Airlines SU6275 flight departing from Moscow to Bangkok because other people could not obtain letters and or medical certificate before boarding the plane.”
She said that many governments used somewhat similar measures to bring their citizens back to the home country.
“In Britain, Germany, and Japan the government used their budget to bring citizens back from risky areas by charter flights,” she explained.
“In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs is planning to evacuate their citizens, including people with dual nationality from risky countries.
“In Cambodia, passengers from France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Spain or the US will be prohibited from entering the country, while the government has not issued any conditions for Cambodian returnees.”
She advised the government to allow Thais to return to the country without any conditions.
“Related airlines must undergo the Covid-19 preventive measures issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to reduce the chance of getting infected,” she added. “When the returnees arrive, they must undergo quarantine measures to contain the spread of disease.”