Thailand is not currently allowing in international flights, and is only going to be allowing in work permit holders starting July on a case by case basis. Thai authorities have indicated that they may open up to international arrivals in the fourth quarter (October) but initially to only a limited number of countries, likely from Asia only at first.
Because of the uncertainty of students being able to travel to Thailand in late August, we have decided to cancel our Fall 2020 program.
We are of course disappointed, as it is possible to run programs in Thailand now. However, the international borders are closed and will be restricted for some time. We are making the decision now so that our students can enroll in classes on their home campuses in the fall. All students have the option to defer to Spring 2021 or Fall 2021, and we will offer an online version to those who are interested.
Numbers of new cases in Thailand have been dropping or very low for awhile now, and they are seeing limited transmission. The Thai pubic health policies and control measures seem to be working.
The following is based on our conversations with public health professionals and epidemiologists here in Thailand and Chiang Mai, as well as conversations internally and with community partners.
Our goal is to make sure that we can manage the inherent risks in study abroad, keep our students, staff, and partner communities healthy, all while managing the added complexity and unknowns surrounding the current pandemic.
Thailand doesn’t have the capacity for massive testing like South Korea, but they are doing a good job of test-track-isolate, and close to 100% mask wearing. Two of our staff are now working doing rapid COVID-19 tests, and Thailand is being very careful about opening up now that they’ve brought the numbers down. They are keeping a nighttime curfew in place, bars are closed, etc., and they are easing things in stages so that they can asses things as they selectively open some sectors of the economy. People are still encouraged to stay at home and work from home if possible, comprehensive temperature screening is practiced in markets and stores, and contact tracing apps and websites are being rolled out.
OVERVIEW OF POLICIES once we are able to run programs
- All students arriving will get tested for COVID-19, and we will continue to test as recommended by the Thai Ministry of Public Health.
- Students will be quarantined for the length of time required by the Thai government, which is currently 14 days but may be reduced in the future. We will be able to conduct our orientation and initial language lessons during this time, as well as giving them time to recover from jet lag.
- We’re not going to be doing home stays, and will be staying in local guest houses in both the city and villages. This will help with physical distancing, and put our community partners at ease. Both our urban and village partners would be nervous about home stays.
- We are going to work together with community leaders to design program activities that reduce the risk of transmission. Most of our activities are outside and field based anyway, so that means a lot of our activities are already ready to go.
- We are designing a comprehensive online version of our semester, so that if we do need to shift to online again, it will be relatively seamless. We’ll be filming interviews and case studies in villages in June and July for this so that we have a deep library of material to work with. We had already been planning to develop an online version of our program, so the pandemic is accelerating that. We are also going to concurrently offer a fully online version of our program, and this will be a part of that. This means that students will be able to shift to our online program easily.
- We are going to be offering a Certificate in Sustainability Studies for students who go through our semester, in-person or online. We’ve been considering this for a few years, so are going to follow through with this now to add value to our program for our students, both online and in-person.
- On our campus and in our classrooms we will have the students spread out as much as possible, based on Thai government policy as well as emerging best practices.
- In line with Thai Ministry of Public Health Recommendations all students will be required to wear masks when in public and on-campus. Masks can come off for eating and exercising and in private.
CHALLENGES AND UNCERTAINTIES
There are a few challenges outside of our control that we are monitoring.
- We don’t know when Thailand will be opening up international travel. Currently (June 2020) they have made no official announcements, but government officials have been quoted as saying October. Limited arrivals for urgent work-permit holders will start in July.
- We don’t know if Thailand will ban US Passport holders from entry to the country or not. Before Thailand shut down all international arrivals, the US was on that list.