Thailand delays plan to re-open cities to tourists until November

BANGKOK, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Thailand has pushed back plans to re-open Bangkok and some other major cities to foreign arrivals until November, due to vaccination rates falling short of targets, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Officials earlier this month said they planned here to welcome vaccinated tourists without quarantine to major cities like Bangkok, Hua Hin, Pattaya and Chiang Mai in October to revive the country’s crucial tourism sector.

“Cities we’ve targeted have not reached 70% vaccination rates and so we have to push out the date to November,” Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.

Despite being a production hub for the AstraZeneca vaccine, Thailand’s vaccine rollout has struggled to keep pace, though Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha pledged on Wednesday to speed up inoculations.

So far, 44% of residents in Bangkok have received two doses, government data shows. Overall, Thailand has vaccinated 22% of the estimated 72 million people living in the country.

Up to now, the tourism scheme here has only been launched on the islands of Samui and Phuket.

Thailand welcomed 40 million arrivals in 2019, who accounted for more than a fifth of gross domestic product, but this year is targeting one million visitors.

At least 98% of Thailand’s more than 1.5 million coronavirus infections and 15,753 deaths happened since April this year due to an outbreak driven by the Delta variant. (Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng Editing by Ed Davies)