As the COVID-19 outbreak worsens, more nations impose travel restrictions. Meanwhile, each country urges its citizens to return home as soon as they can. But for those returning home to Thailand, things will be more difficult starting from March 22.
Thai nationals wishing to return home will have to provide two “important” documents, or they would be denied boarding, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT)’s new rule. It’s no longer just a matter of hopping on the plane and getting tested, or a 14-day quarantine.
The two documents are: 1) A health certificate indicating that they are “fit to fly”. Only doctors can issue this certificate, and it must be dated no more than 72 hours before departure time. This document in no way indicates that a person is free from COVID19. The Royal Thai Embassies (RTE) refers to it as Cert-1. 2) A certificate from the RTE, which indicates that the passenger is a Thai national, and certifies that Cert-1 is correct. This is called Cert-2.
Simply put: A note from the doctor and then a note from the embassy to verify that the doctor’s note is legit.
A funny thing happened on the way to the clinic
In any country with a COVID-19 outbreak, the medical sector is overwhelmed with patients. In the United Kingdom, the British Government has made it clear that even if you have symptoms, you shall not visit the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals or clinics, unless the condition is severe. Anyone without severe symptoms would only be exposed to greater risks at crowded hospitals.
But for whatever reason, the Thai authority thinks doctors are not busy enough saving lives. Instead, they are sending hordes of Thai nationals, who just want to return home, to already overcrowded hospitals and clinics.
As one of the many Thais wishing to return home, I’ve made a few calls to private clinics in London. My first online appointment was cancelled, as it was deemed unnecessary. One of the clinics just outright laughed and replied to me, saying they have never heard of someone who’s fit and doesn’t even have any symptoms, wanting to visit the clinic. The staff also mentioned that generally, medical certificates are not issued right after a visit and usually could take up to 10 days.
Obtaining Cert-1 is almost impossible, especially when the validity is only 72 hours. Try coordinating this while looking for a flight home, another nearly impossible task.
Sorry, Mario! The princess is in another castle
Okay, somehow you have your Cert-1, congratulations. Here comes Cert-2. You have to visit your nearest RTE, risk exposing yourself to hordes of people (so much for social distancing), to show your Cert-1, along with a copy of your passport and flight itinerary. What if you are not in a city with an RTE? Prepare to pack your bags for a day tour.
Some Thai embassies may allow you to submit these documents online, but for RTE London, you must print out Cert-2 “with a color printer only”.
With these two certifications in your hands, you may board your flight home.
Embassy staff, not impressed
Many of the Thais abroad are stunned by this. A staff at an RTE told me that he has “a thousand words to say” to the CAAT, and that many embassy staff were caught off guard by this new rule. They expect great confusion among Thais because of it.
In the UK, RTE London has organised its own emergency medical team to assist those who will depart from the UK this weekend. But this is only a temporary arrangement for those flying out. The embassy staff told me that Thai citizens seeking to return, for the time being, have to obtain the fit-to-fly certification on their own through a private clinic or a video consultation.
Is it even legal?
Questions are raised whether this new rule is lawful. Another RTE staff told me that RTEs do not have the expertise nor the authority to judge whether anyone has COVID-19. There is very little point in making Thais come over for a letter of approval, and the current work that is being done at RTEs worldwide is to ensure Thais can return home. Legally, any Thai with a valid passport should always have the right to return home.
Dr. Lalin Kovudhikulrungsri, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, posted her observation on Facebook, pointing out that this new rule may conflict with several local and international laws. One example is Article 39 from the Thai Constitution, which clearly states that one shall not deny a Thai national to enter the Kingdom. Another example is the scope of power. How (and why) does the CAAT, an independent organization, have the ability to instruct the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ entities to issue certain documents.
In times of crisis, the country ought to look after its citizens. While other countries are sending planes to pick up their stranded citizens, Thailand just made it harder for Thais to return home. There is no doubt that Thais abroad, as well as those at home, are more than frustrated with this new rule
Fortunately, with help from RTE London’s emergency team, I received both Cert-1 and Cert-2 in a single visit. I am “permitted” to come home.
My suggestion for any Thai wishing to return home is to find a way to reach out to your respective RTE. If calling doesn’t work, write to them on social media. The staff are extremely capable and will try their best to ensure that you come home. Do not leave it to the last minute.