Thailand to seek travel bubbles with China, Malaysia

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Tourists wear masks as they visit a shopping center in Bangkok, Thailand January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

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BANGKOK, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Thailand will have talks on bilateral travel bubble arrangements with China and Malaysia later this month, an official said on Monday, as part of efforts to bolster a steady recovery in its crucial tourism sector.

Thailand received a record of nearly 40 million foreign visitors in 2019 - more than a quarter of those from China - but total arrivals slumped to about 0.5% of that last year, due to weaker external demand and tight quarantine and entry requirements.

Southeast Asia's holiday hotspots have suffered billions in lost business from the lack of tourists from mainland China, which has yet to agree any travel bubble arrangements.

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An agreement with Thailand would determine the number of people allowed in the exchange, including protocols for visas, travel and insurance, said government spokesperson Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, adding China had agreed to discuss the "tourist exchange".

It comes a week after Thailand reinstated its "Test & Go" travel scheme for vaccinated arrivals of all nationalities with health insurance, who can skip quarantine if COVID-19 tests are negative.

In contrast, China requires lengthy quarantine for most arrivals including Chinese nationals and has a zero-tolerance policy towards outbreaks.

Thailand is also dealing with an increase in new cases lately, reaching 10,000 on Saturday, the most in three months.

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Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Martin Petty

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