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UPDATE 1-With few travellers, Thailand turns airport into vaccination centre

(Recasts with vaccinations, adds byline, details)

BANGKOK, April 28 (Reuters) - Long queues have returned to Thailand’s unusually quiet international airport this week, after it converted its check-in area into an immunisation centre as part of efforts to speed up its COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Cordons and suitcases were replaced with evenly-spaced chairs at check-in counters, where immigration and airport staff and cabin crew lined up to register for the vaccines, of which more than 1,000 will be administered each day.

The inoculations provided a buzz of activity seldom seen this past year at Suvarnabhumi Airport, which has been hit by a dramatic slump in passengers and air traffic from weaker demand and tighter entry curbs.

In 2019, before the pandemic came, Thailand welcomed nearly 40 million tourists, mostly through the main gateway. Thailand had only 6,737 visitors in March.

Staff member Siwaporn Singkhrut, who was among the first of more than 30,000 set to receive vaccines at the airport, said there was plenty of room to expand the service to more people.

“Now, only a portion of the airport is in operation, and it would be even better if it were to fully open to the public so people can come and get vaccinated,” she said.

After a year of relatively minor outbreaks, Thailand is experiencing its biggest and fastest spread of the coronavirus, with cases more doubling since the start of April to nearly 61,699, with 178 fatalities.

It recorded 2,012 new cases and 15 more deaths on Wednesday.

Thailand’s government has yet to start mass vaccinations and is rushing to secure vaccine supplies to supplement those set to be manufactured locally from June. (Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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