Stickman Readers' Submissions August 29th, 2020

Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) in Bangkok

I write this first-hand experience about the Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) as help for people who are interested in coming themselves to Thailand under these circumstances.

There is quite a bit of misinformation about the process online so I didn’t bother too much with what was out there and decided to get my info at the Thai Embassy of the country I was in at the time of application. They emailed me back with a list of papers I needed to present to obtain a Certificate of Entry for Non-Thai Nationals, CoE in short.

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There is a large and ever increasing list of people that are allowed to enter Thailand under this scheme, depending on which category one falls into there will be different papers needed (for example professionals, diplomats, married to a Thai spouse etc).

However what is needed by all is the following:

–      International Health insurance with a coverage of at least 100,000 USD and covers COVID-19 treatment.

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–      Covid-free Health certificate issued no longer than 72 hours before travel date/time.

–      Fit to fly certificate issued no longer than 72 hours before travel date/time.

–      Proof of air-ticket.

–      Proof of Alternative State Quarantine hotel booking.

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This has literally been copy pasted from the email I received from the embassy, however I have added “time” behind the word date as they will count every single hour – if you had a test 72 hours and 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time you will not be allowed to board the plane.

So far clear enough however on the day of application at the embassy for the CoE I am informed they are not sure when the next flights will take place, I need a booking at one of the ASQ hotels that is flexible, without the confirmed booking they can’t process my application. There was a big difference in the booking terms from the hotels I contacted, some allowed only a fixed number of changes to the arrival date (1 or 2 changes), others none at all. Some didn’t even reply, showing how busy they must have been.

Also there was a difference in how close to my original arrival date I was allowed to change the booking, with some it had to be not closer than 7 days before the booking, others 5 etc..

Only a few allowed a refund, the majority offered no refund. If you think you’d have to change the arrival date it is also good to question if you think the hotel will be capable of doing so as these hotels fill up fast, for example the first hotel I thought I would book with had reasonable terms, they informed me that the first possible opening was at that time on the 10th of August. After reviewing all the conditions and terms I call them back the very next day to find out that in the space of those 24 hours they had been fully booked until the beginning of September!

What if you had booked with the promise of a change of arrival date but the date you want to change to is fully booked, with no openings available until next month? Could you wait that long? To say that this scheme is popular is an understatement.

After the surprise with the first hotel I settled with one of the largest hotels, as the amount of total available ASQ rooms is stated right next to the name of each hotel. It also had an unlimited amount of changes for the arrival date, and no limit in how close to the arrival date I could make a change. It would not however refund me in case I wasn’t able to come to Thailand.

Luckily for people looking into it now the ASQ hotel list is ever expanding, it is almost double of what it was a month ago.

While the embassy was processing my papers I was informed of the next flights, leaving from several airports over Europe and different airlines, all with a limited allocation for non-Thais from each country (i.e. X amount of French citizens, X amount of Germans etc.) I picked one with Thai Airways as it was the earliest I could make IF everything would turn out ok. I was requested to transfer the amount directly to a Thai Airways bank account with specific comments, again a leap of faith as my papers were still being processed and, I had yet to have my covid test and, again, no refund from Thai Airways in case I wasn’t able to make the flight.

All turned out to be fine in the end, once I had booked the flight the embassy was already processing my papers for 2 weeks and things went quickly after that, I was able to puzzle the doctor appointments in for the fit to fly and another for the covid test and went to pick up my CoE. Note: you also need to have a valid visa, maybe less obvious for some but the Certificate of Entry alone is not enough.

As far as I understand the international health insurance needed can be from any insurer worldwide. However, it has to clearly state the minimum coverage amount of 100,000 USD and covering Covid-19. If it doesn’t state it very obviously on the paper from the insurer your application will not be processed as I found out from an issue a lady had in front of me at the embassy, she came well prepared and clearly very organised with every document in a separate plastic cover. Her insurance covered both requirements but it was either referred to in the fine print, or, it stated something like “Platinum” coverage, to find out what that exactly meant and covered it had to be checked online. So another tip, if it isn’t written on the document ask for your insurer to write you a separate letter confirming these requirements.

About the fit to fly certificate, if you look for it online you might be disappointed in finding an example as there is no standard, anywhere. So whatever your doctor comes up with to show you are healthy enough to travel by plane is fine as long as it clearly states “Fit to Fly”.

On the date of departure everyone that made it onto the shortlist to board the plane was expected to arrive 6 hours before take-off time so all documents could be inspected before being allowed to check in. I was there right on time and was greeted by an enormous queue with to my surprise the majority being non-Thai. It was quite an eclectic mix of skin colours with western families, western men by themselves, western ladies by themselves, single parents (men or women) with children, a variety of languages from Swedish to Spanish and just about everything in between.

And yes, I’d almost forget there were Thai nationals too, albeit in an obvious minority. From standing in the queue and later on boarding the plane I’d reckon about 30% of all passengers were Thai. Whilst waiting to have my documents checked a German man with his two sons was standing in front of me with a large folder with all necessary papers but was refused to check in because as their fit to fly certificates was a long list of medical conditions they were checked for. It turned out they had none of these conditions, which is easy enough to conclude that they are healthy enough to fly. However it didn’t have the exact wording “Fit to fly” on it. They understandably almost lost their patience after 15 minutes of going back and forth but were advised to go to the airport’s medic bay and have a doctor check them again and produce a new letter or write, stamp and sign it onto the existing one.

When boarding the plane I was greeted with a scene from the movie “Outbreak” as all flight attendants had full hazmat suits, medical gloves, masks and face screens. We did have the normal 2 meals although drinks were limited, coke, milk and water was about all that was on offer. We were also not allowed to consume alcoholic drinks we might have bought at the duty free shops.

I was glad to see we had these meals as flying from Europe to Thailand without any food would not be very pleasant. Several weeks ago a Dutch man put his experiences online with a KLM repatriation flight and he said no food was served, I had a giggle and thought to myself it must be a Dutch thing as our friends from The Netherlands are not known as the most generous. But later when reading more about the people that are caught in quarantine to have Covid-19 the vast majority are Thai nationals, apparently they don’t need the covid test to board the repatriation flights, only the Fit to fly certificate. Which is baffling, why would a country go to the lengths to set up this rigorous system to then weaken its effectiveness by allowing gaps?

I read in an article on the Bangkok Post website that no less than 17 people in quarantine to have covid-19 were on the same flight! In Europe the average infection rate to have an area declared as a red zone starts from about 25 infections per 100K inhabitants. To have 17 infections on a 600+ seat plane is a staggering number. It is a mathematical certainty that most of these people contracted the virus whilst being on the plane brought in from at least 1 infected person, as Thais are seemingly not required to have the covid test prior to boarding it is reasonable to assume it was a Thai national to bring it onboard. Makes me feel a bit nervous that I did take off my mask twice to eat those meals. Maybe there was more behind KLM not serving any food thank what I first jokingly assumed.

2 days ago the results of a Japanese supercomputer doing simulations were publicized and it showed that wearing a mask reduces the chance of catching the virus by 2/3. I believe in maths and this makes me believe in masks.

Knowing this; would you be comfortable taking your mask of to eat your meals surrounded by Thais on a repatriation flight?

Immediately after disembarking in Suvarnabhumi we basically had the entire airport to ourselves and were guided onto seats placed in the middle of the airport wing we were in. Many people, again all in full PPE, checking every single document, after getting the clear we were guided to a desk where we needed to submit our CoE. After which we were seated again to be guided in groups to immigration, just before the normally dreaded queues desks were placed where our documents were checked again, this time by immigration officials, once the check was completed we were allowed to go to the normal booths where again an immigration official checked my documents and finally stamped my passport.

If you are thinking about buying some perfume or chocolates from the airport, exchanging some currency into baht or anything else you are used of doing I have to disappoint you. Every single shop I saw was closed. Best to bring in from wherever you are coming from.

Once released from the airport there were many more people in full hazmat suits again, waiting to guide the outflux of people into their designated waiting minivans or even coaches. With the first line waiting to pick up diplomats, government officials and NGO reps I was picked up at the second row and asked to also put on a face screen and hazmat suit, the suit was so thin it immediately ripped.

The drive to the hotel was a shock, never have I seen downtown BKK so quiet, I literally could count all the motosais I saw on both hands. The economic results of this lockdown must be devastating.

Once at the hotel we were greeted by the team of nurses from the hospital that my particular hotel has a partnership with. Filled in paperwork, did my first covid test and finally I could get a fresh shower in my home for the next two weeks.

Everything is quite well arranged, with a thermometer in the room, 3 meals a day (this hotel clearly stated that on the invoice, others didn’t, cheaper hotels might not include food into the price?).

Like one of Stick’s readers mentioned, the food is lukewarm at best but considering the logistics to serve an entire hotel at the same time I’m ok with that. And no, I wouldn’t go through the hassle of hauling over a microwave. There is room service though, the food being prepared just for you does mean it’s warm when it arrives; calling it hot would be stretching the truth.

Food delivery is forbidden, alcohol and cigarettes are too. If you want anything like that you’ll have to bring it yourself. Your only chance is to bring it from the point of departure.

Oh and talking about the rumour that Thai / Farang couples are being separated in some hotels, there is none of that here. In fact the room next to me has a Western man with his Thai wife. After the 4th day we were allowed to catch some air at the outside areas where it is a international with Japanese, Chinese, Westerners, Africans and several mixed couples and families. Thai nationals are even more outnumbered than on the plane, I am guessing about 15% is Thai. That includes the spouses in mixed couples.

The farang / Thai couples, being a western woman with a Thai man or the other way around, they are all in the same room as far as I can tell. The Stickman reader who said that a friend with his family had to stay in adjacent rooms with a connecting door might be more down to the family size? I have a king-sized and a queen-sized bed in my room so a couple with a child would work fine; any more would not.

If indeed some hotels require mixed couples to split up I think it will be more of a case of the local Khun Yai not realizing the rules and inventing them on the spot, I have seen it in several situations throughout my stay in Thailand. My best theory as to why they do this is to not let their subordinates show that they in fact don’t have a clue, coming up with the strictest version he or she can think of at that moment so they don’t lose face and exert power at the same time. Best defence is attack, right?

All in all I have nothing to complain here, a few news channels on TV, my e-reader full with books, meals brought to my room and an endless supply of water. If I could have changed one thing though it would be choosing a hotel that has a balcony or even windows that can be opened as being stuck inside makes me really appreciate the value of fresh air.

So my time is coming to an end here, and soon I’ll be released into the wild. I’m glad about it.

Europe is doing… well, pretty bad, basically. All European countries are chasing the virus rather than being on top of it with them opening borders way too soon for the high season tourist Euros.

I was lucky enough to not have to face a lockdown during this entire period as I was allowed to travel all over and really got a feel for every individual country I was visiting for work purposes. Misinterpretation of rules is not strictly a Thai thing as different border police officials mentioned different rules. But I don’t blame them as rules changed and are still changing on a daily basis.

This entire situation hasn’t instilled the most trust in my fellow Europeans to be honest as the arrogance in not wanting to wear masks, not respecting social distancing to participating in mass protest packed on to one another makes me understand why in times of crisis so many people die. We are, as humans, unable to quickly accept a truth we don’t like and denial reigns supreme.

Look at England which tried to stay calm and carry on when all of Europe was already in lockdown, resulting in huge fatalities, many not even added to the covid-deaths (elderly deceased in care homes with covid apparently don’t make it to the statistics for example). Even their Prime Minister caught it as he decided he knew better and in front of TV cameras and in full populist mode kept on to meet, greet and shake hands with everyone. Just a month later they faced a fatality number not seen since the second world war.

And honestly, all countries in Europe are doing equally bad. Is it too many liberties, weak leadership, or have we had it too good for too long and we forgot what hardship is, resulting in us collectively acting like spoiled brats?

Look across the pond, where our orange friend is allowing his fellow Americans to catch and die from the virus in staggering numbers, all in the name of freedom.

And to the people saying it is just the flu and we should continue our lives as normal: only now the long-lasting effects of having had covid-19 are starting to pop up, a great number of people that had no knowledge of being infected or had no symptoms are now showing lung damage, pneumonia and neurological damage. Would you risk catching it? If it didn’t kill you but from now on your new normal will be that you can’t take stairs anymore without being short of breath, you can’t smell anything, you are prone to sudden headaches, feel tired 24/7 or wake up inexplicably in the middle of the night? The flu, quite clearly, covid-19 is not.

Finland is doing well. They kept all their distress plans in place, kept emergency stock topped up and are in general ready for whatever nastiness that could come their way. Being a neighbour of Russia never allowed them to relax too much. They have among the lowest numbers of infections worldwide, not bad for a cold country.

New Zealand and Australia are doing well too. To understand why, we just have to compare the rules they impose with the countries that are not doing so great.

Where did this virus come from? It is anyone’s guess but having the original epidemic centre in Wuhan with a lab in the very same city that is on record as having done tests on coronaviruses and at the same time was reprimanded for failing safety protocols it is a smoking gun.

Did it pop up in late December 2019 as the Chinese want to make us believe? I don’t know. What I do know is that in September 2019 there was a big sporting event for international military personnel in Wuhan. Many countries sending soldiers over to compete with teams of soldiers from other countries in a variety of sports. Upon their return to France a high number of French soldiers were admitted to hospital and had to be treated for an “unknown virus with flu-like symptoms”. This is 4 months before the rest of the world learned about it.

Being detrimental to the Thai economy it sure is, this lockdown. I don’t believe the virus is not present in Thailand. The amount of tests done is only a fraction of what have been done in other countries. Maths and statistics, again, suggest otherwise. But seeing all this inability to really face and tackle it by the Western world, the thought of being in Thailand is very welcome.

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