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What is it like to travel back to Thailand during the COVID-19 pandemic?

by Ashima

Community members share their experiences in state-mandated quarantine. 

By Amornrat Sidhu

This year has proven that many of us take the concept of ‘home’ for granted. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, being home has now become something we’ve grown to cherish, especially those who’ve had the privilege of living through lockdown with their loved ones. However, for those of us who’ve been abroad and were caught by surprise, the pandemic has made returning home more difficult and more yearned for than ever. Members of the Thai-Indian community, myself included, share their experiences of state-mandated quarantine.

An Overview of the Process:

Documents Required:

  • Proof of valid health insurance (make sure the amount is as per the current requirements)
  • Certificate of residence
  • Passport copy
  • Flight confirmation
  • Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) confirmation
  • Permission to leave your departure country
  • Transit visas for connecting routes
  • Bank statements

Tests Required:

  • Negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before flight
  • Test must be by the RT-PCR method
  • Your fit-to-fly certificate and COVID-19 test must be separate documents

Certificates Required:

  • Fit-to-fly certificate (keep in mind that there are no online forms for fit-to-fly certificates. Don’t fall prey to scams)
  • Certificate of Entry (CoE)

Booking ASQ:  asq.locanation.com or www.hsscovid.com

Additional things to consider:

  • The necessary documents differ depending on the country one is departing from. Make sure to check ahead of time.
  • You will not know about a repatriation flight until a few days before getting on the plane, so you do not receive flight confirmation in advance and cannot book your ASQ with certainty.
  • Not all countries have a Thai consulate or embassy, so you may have to arrange for documents with an embassy in a neighbouring country.
  • COVID-19 test results can take anywhere between a few minutes to 96 hours to come through depending on the test centre and the country. This means you may get your test results mere hours before your intended flight or not in time for it.
  • Every airline has different rules about a negative COVID-19 test, whether it covers the entire journey or expires mid-journey because of the 72 hours.
  • Airline representatives might advise you differently in comparison to ground staff on the day you check-in for your flight.
  • You have to remember that by flying, you run the risk of contracting COVID-19 enroute to your destination.
  • If you miss your connecting flight or if a flight is cancelled, you have to re-apply for Certificate of Entry (CoE) in transit and adjust your ASQ.

QUARANTINE WITH  BABY IN BELLY
Amornrat Sidhu,
Primary School Teacher
Departed from Botswana
Quarantined at Radisson Suites, Sukhumvit Soi 13
Affiliated hospital: Piyavate Hospital
Quarantined in November, 2020

I NEED TO COME HOME
COVID-19 or no COVID-19, the plan was always to return to Thailand to give birth. For a while, I tried my best to make it work in Botswana because I wanted my husband by my side, but as the cases kept increasing, so did the implications on delivery procedures and post-delivery life. There were rumours of an imminent lockdown, which would be during my delivery period. If I wanted a natural birth, I’d have to take a COVID-19 test every five days during my last month of pregnancy so that the hospital stays updated about my health. My husband wouldn’t be allowed in the delivery room with me either.

BIGGEST PRE-QUARANTINE CONCERN
Even though I’m a Thai citizen, I knew travelling was not going to be an easy process even with all the details finalised. My biggest concern was feeling claustrophobic in the hotel room. Although I’ve never had anxiety about enclosed spaces before, pregnancy is not the most comfortable state to be in, and the thought of not being able to open a window for a little bit of comfort really got to me. The uncertainty of it all made me quite upset and I cried before boarding my flight.

ONCE IN QUARANTINE
By the time I got to my ASQ, I was tired and overwhelmed. Thankfully, by some stroke of luck, the room I booked had a small balcony, which mentally, helped me immensely knowing I could open the doors if I wanted to. The first night, I experienced some claustrophobia so I had a little walk in my suite and opened the curtains so that the city lights could stream in. My third night onwards, my claustrophobia was better but I kept the curtains opened throughout.

BEST COPING STRATEGY
Because I am pregnant, I have to be extremely cautious about medicines, including ones that can alleviate soreness and pain. That made the feelings of helplessness worse, so I contacted my Thai doctor and asked her to prepare safe anti-anxiety medications for me and they were in my room in time for my arrival. I had no intentions of using them, and I never did, but just knowing that I had the option gave me some relief.

QUARANTINE AT HOME
Rosna Sachdev,
University Student,
Departed from United Kingdom
Quarantined at her residence
No affiliated hospital
Quarantined in March, 2020

I NEED TO COME HOME
There was a period of a lot of uncertainty because my university was one of the last to announce if they would be closing down campus. When it was finally announced that the university was going to shut two weeks before the Easter break, my family decided it was best for me to come home because they were not sure if international flights would be available in the coming weeks. They immediately booked my ticket and I had only a few days to get organised.

The day before my flight my parents discovered that I needed a health certificate stating I did not have COVID-19 in order to enter Thailand. It was an absolute frenzy trying to find out where I could get tested and receive this necessary document. Ultimately I was unsuccessful because it was quite early in the pandemic and new protocol was constantly being introduced. My parents decided that I was going to leave on the day anyway, I had one hour to pack, eat, and head to the airport. It was very stressful, but I made it.

BIGGEST PRE-QUARANTINE CONCERN
When I returned, the requirement was self-enforced quarantine but I was determined to stick to the rules no matter what. There was still a lot of unknown information about the illness and I didn’t want to pass it on to anyone, especially my grandparents. I know many international students that came back around the same time who did not follow the rules as strictly.

ONCE IN QUARANTINE
My biggest hurdle in quarantine was developing flu-like symptoms towards the latter part of the second week, which worried me a lot. My throat kept closing up, so on top of feeling unwell I was also anxious that I had caught COVID-19. I drank a lot of herbal water and had Paracetamol when necessary but thankfully I ended up testing negative.

BEST COPING STRATEGY
I created a routine that helped me settle into my temporary world. Even though university was closed and there were no online classes, l had pending projects, so I had set aside time to work, unwind, work out, catch up on shows, and relax!

QUARANTINE WITH KIDS
Suchetna Sachdev Mangat, Mom of Three
Departed from Oman Quarantined at Le Méridien Bangkok, Silom
Affiliated Hospital:
Bangkok Nursing Home
Quarantined in October, 2020

I NEED TO COME HOME
My family’s decision to come to Thailand was based on my children’s education. Considering Thailand had managed the spread of COVID-19 to the point of minimal local transmissions, we decided that our children would be much better attending school here for one year where they could benefit from face-to-face teaching and social interaction as opposed to strict online learning (with no end in sight). We have family here and had the option, so why not?

BIGGEST PRE-QUARANTINE CONCERN
Travelling with three kids and a nanny and being responsible for everyone was stressful. My biggest fear was that one of us would test positive for the disease at some point. This would mean we would ALL have to begin our 14-day quarantine period again in a hospital. While that was a daunting thought, I felt comfort in the fact that we’d at least be in a group.

ONCE IN QUARANTINE
I had read many reviews that described the quarantine experience as difficult. However, when we arrived, our hotel picked us up in a luxurious van, we had a spacious suite so my toddler could walk around, large windows with beautiful views, the hotel was accommodating with menu changes for my kids, and I could receive home food once a day. There was also no balcony or windows that could open, so I did not have to worry about my children’s safety in that regard.

BEST COPING STRATEGY
The experience was better than expected because we were all mentally prepared for confinement. I prepped my kids on what to expect, so my two boys never questioned me about leaving the room because they were already aware that they could not. There was acceptance because there was preparedness. 

QUARANTINE ALONE
Kripa Singh, Creative Director at Elan Events
Departed from India
Quarantined at Solitaire Hotel, Sukhumvit Soi 11
Affiliated hospital: World Medical Hospital
Quarantined in September, 2020

I NEED TO COME HOME
I had planned a two-week trip to visit relatives in New Delhi that turned into being away from Thailand for the better part of the year. As lucky as I was to have a support system in India, I was itching to come home to be with my parents and brother.

BIGGEST PRE-QUARANTINE CONCERN
On one of the MANY documents I had to secure from the Thai Consulate, there was a stamp missing but Thai officials still provided me with a CoE. I thought I was all set to go but I was denied at the airport, so my concerns were more with getting home than what would actually transpire once I was in quarantine.

ONCE IN QUARANTINE
Some common hurdles for people in quarantine include having to adjust to set meal timings and a lack of exercise, but after a negative test, guests are allowed to venture around an outdoor area for about 45 minutes a day. A few days into quarantine I was patiently waiting for my tests results, only to find out that a passenger who travelled on the same plane as me tested positive. For precautionary purposes, this meant that the cleaners did not visit my room and I was not allowed out for the entire duration of my stay, even though I ended up testing negative.

BEST COPING STRATEGY
My phone and Kindle got me through the experience because they allowed me to catch up on reading and connect with friends and family.

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