Antigen testing for visitors in doubt as Omicron variant spreads

Public Health Ministry proposal, undergo antigen testing, eight countries in southern Africa

Passengers walk past electronic boards showing airline flights at Suvarnabhumi airport on Nov 15. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

The government is considering suspending the decision to replace RT-PCR tests with antigen testing for air travellers following the emergence of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, Deputy Public Health Minister Satit Pitutacha said on Monday.

Mr Satit said at Government House the decision to move to antigen testing was made to facilitate the entry of visitors at designated airports, to boost the tourism sector.

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration on Friday approved a Public Health Ministry proposal to allow travellers from 63 eligible countries and territories to undergo antigen testing, instead of RT-PCR, from Dec 16.

Travellers subject to RT-PCR testing have to quarantine overnight at a hotel while awaiting the result. Antigen testing takes only hours and visitors would be allowed to proceed to their destinations if the result is negative.

The deputy minister said RT-PCR would be more effective than antigen testing in keeping the Omicron variant out of Thailand.

Apisamai Srirangson, a spokewoman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said the CCSA’s decsion on Friday to replace RT-PCR tests with antigen tests might change, now the Covid-19 situation is changing.

Travellers from eight countries in southern Africa will be denied enty from Dec 1 in a bid to keep Thailand free of the variant.

Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow said Omicron would not spoil the reopening of the country. African countries were not on the list of 63 countries and territories that Thailand allowed entry without mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The government would assess the situation in two or three weeks, including the decision to allow in travellers from more countries without quarantine.

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