This year, parents and kids globally have faced many challenges from schools migrating across to online learning, to social lockdowns, families being torn apart due to travel restrictions, and much more. Now, parents who chose to return to their home countries for many different reasons are faced with the arduous task of returning to Bangkok.
So exactly what does being in quarantine with kids look like? One of our community members, Jill Koh, gives us a first hand look at the complexities, frustrations and we are sure by the time this is published, hopefully the relief of finally being at home in Bangkok.
To Stay or Not to Stay?
My family has been living in Bangkok for the last 5 years. A year back, my husband relocated ‘home’ for his new appointment, which to my family is Singapore. We, that is my children and I, decided to stay in Bangkok to avoid any disruption to schooling. But, then in February the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. In March, the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth declared a state of emergency in order to keep the country safe. Within days, all airlines started cancelling flights, travel bans were imposed and schools were closed indefinitely. So to stay or not to stay? Considering all the factors carefully, we decided it would be safer for the family to be reunited in Singapore.
During our four months in Singapore, we kept track of the situation in Thailand. Rules weren’t relaxing, in fact they got stricter. So like the rest of the world we stayed at home, socially distanced and watched as COVID-19 spread rapidly across the globe.
Finally, Thailand begun to slowly re-open to a small sector of the community and we were able to begin the very long process in order to prepare to be repatriated to Bangkok.
The Repatriation Process
Returning to Thailand was an arduous task. The Thai Consulate of Singapore announced on 30th June that spouses of Thai nationals could first be repatriated. However, news from Thailand said that more than one category can be repatriated. A Thai friend helped us to check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was advised that the same instructions were provided to all consulates around the world. However, each consulate has to adapt the procedures to fit local restrictions and circumstances. In other words, there was not a standard repatriation process globally for anyone trying to re-enter Thailand.
On 17th July, the Thai Consulate of Singapore announced that a further 4 more categories, including students and guardians, would be allowed back in. A declaration form was provided on the Thai Consulate Singapore website and later that same day a list of Alternative State Quarantine hotels were posted on the site. The consulate was apparently swamped with calls, emails and was taking a while to respond. Everyone was quite confused. What do we do next?
Four days later, a new memo was suddenly released detailing the process to submit documents for two possible repatriation flights! It was a mad struggle trying to get the needed documents – namely (a) completed declaration form, (b) valid passport, visa and letter from school, (c) confirmed flight booking, (d) confirmed ASQ booking, (e) Insurance coverage.
- Completed declaration form – Easily done. Downloaded a copy from the Thai consulate site and completed it. Or so I thought.
- Valid passport, visa and letter – We have a wonderfully helpful school Human Resource Department who issued us the letters needed to confirm our student and guardian visa status. So again this was no issue. It was actually much harder for some with work permits.
- Confirmed flight – There wasn’t any commercial flights in August and the Thai consulate said to book ANY commercial Singapore Airlines flight. So we booked a 2 way flight for 1st September for 2 around 34,000THB. Within a few days, I was told that all commercial flights in September were removed and the first available flight was in October!
- Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) – This was a nightmare! When we were told to apply, there were less than 20 approved ASQ Hotels for all, and many were fully booked into late August. We received endless rejections for 7 August quarantine, which was a mere 2 weeks away. Having to find a room for two made the situation worse and it was a stressful week trying to find an ASQ hotel that would take us, regardless of budget. Fortunately for me, my kids go to a very close knitted International School in Bangkok and a parent who worked for Anantara Group reached out and got us a Deluxe Riverside View Room at Anantara Riverside. We paid THB 119,200THB for 15 nights, (yes, the Thai Authorities do not consider the check in and out days as part of the quarantine), full board of three daily meals and two COVID-19 tests on the 3rd and 10th day of arrival.
- COVID-19 insurance – Sure we had more than enough insurance but the Thai authorities required our coverage to explicitly indicate the terms “Covered for COVID-19 up to USD 100,000”. So we had to find a Thai based insurer willing to issue the coverage without the usual medical check up. Luckily I was asked to check out “Thai Expats Stranded Overseas Due To COVID-19 Restrictions”, a Facebook page started by a fellow expat in a similar situation. There were agents within that group who came forth and offered plans. We finally chose one with maximum deductions and it cost me 11,050THB for my 1 year policy and 4,500THB for my child’s. The certificate was issued within four days after I made the application. No questions asked.
The Dreaded COVID-19 Tests
Finally, after submission, we were all told that every successful applicant would be assured of a repatriation seat on the flight back to Bangkok. The wait had begun. However, there is still one more obstacle – the Covid 19 negative test result and Fit to Fly (FTF) memo.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Health has a strict policy that only persons exhibiting symptoms may be tested for it. No one trying to travel is permitted to be tested without an approval from the Ministry and between my friends and I, we checked over 15 General Practitioner clinics, Private and Public hospitals and received the same reply, “you need the letter from the Ministry to permit the test. There is a travel ban and only essential travels are allowed.”
On the 3rd of August, after collecting our Certificate of Entry from the Thai Consulate, I wrote and called the Ministry of Health, and even appealed to the Minister of the residential zone where I reside, for help. Finally at 12.30am, 5th August I received the approval to make my way to 1 of 4 appointed Raffles Medical Group clinics to be tested.
The Thai Authorities wanted the COVD-19 test result and FTF memo to be issued within 72 hours from departure (which would be 16:00Hrs on 7th August for us). The Singapore Government was stricter and mandated that the COVID-19 test result would be valid for 48hours and FTF memo for 24hours. More planning involved. So at 6pm on 5th August, we made our way to Raffles Medical clinic at Changi Airport and got tested for THB 4,356 per person which involves 1 one quick nasal swab, no throat swabs were required.
When we collected the results at 6.30pm (remember, the FTF memo has to be issued within 24hours of departure) we were told Raffles Medical group could issue the memo at THB 2,640 inclusive of consultation or have the memo issued by a general practitioner at a fraction of the price. So at 8pm, we made our way to a General Practitioner close to home and was issued the 2 memos at THB 1,232 for both.
In all, we have spent close to THB 180,000 just to get on the flight back to Bangkok.
Arriving Back Into Thailand
Finally the day came for our departure, we cleared the check-in 3 hours ahead of departure as instructed by the Thai Consular and was soon on our way back in a fairly packed flight, full of masks and not a food tray in sight, although Singapore Airlines issued a snack bag upon boarding.
Arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport was uneventful and we were herded out by a large number of staff either with masks on or in hazmat suits. We sat in rows of chairs and had our documents checked at least four times at different stations as we moved down the line. Luckily, I had downloaded the T8 arrival declaration form prior to departure and completed it, so it was less hassle as my documents were in complete order. Finally after the 4th document check (that we had our COVID-19 results with us, ASQ booking and valid visa) we made it to the immigration counter and was soon cleared. With the luggage collected, we were directed down barricaded lanes straight out to Gate 9 where the Hotel Staff was waiting for our arrival.
Soon we were amidst the horrific Friday Bangkok traffic, happy to be back, sad to be separated from family and on our way to our temporary home for 14 days quarantine at the Hotel.
What Quarantine Actually Looks Like
On arrival at any ASQ hotel, nurses have to take our temperature and have us declare understanding of the health policies during the period of our quarantine.
As I write this, it is now Day eight of our quarantine. We are lucky we managed to get a place in Anantara Riverside and the service has been immaculate, the room comfortable and the food sheer indulgence. It also helps that we have balcony space for some “fresh” air when it gets too much being cooped in a 30sqm room. We remain eternally grateful as we are aware many others are not so lucky.
When we were tested negative after the 1st test on the 3rd day, we were allowed out to a relaxation area for 1hour daily. And after our second test (due on 18th August) we can be allowed to dine in a proper restaurant set aside for people serving the quarantine.
My daughter has pretty much been in isolation of some sorts since the end of February holidays when we were made to “self quarantine” after our term break to Japan, followed shortly by the full closure of schools as mandated by the Thai Government. Even during our period back in Singapore, our Government had imposed a Circuit Breaker minimising socialising outside of the immediate family. Now in quarantine, it is just the both of us. Time does pass slowly and she gets restless. Thrice weekly Chinese online tuition and daily maths homework distracts her and her indulgence is the daily 2 hours she gets to play with Adobe Draw or Roblox. We aim for 30 minutes of daily workout to get her back in shape in preparation for her gymnastics tryouts when she returns to school. She has held up well and is celebrating her 10th birthday in quarantine with some surprises in store with the help of the hotel staff, but I believe it has to be tougher for families with younger kids who would require much more adult attention endlessly.
Top tip: Find useful sites that deal with tips for Kids in Quarantine!
It was a tedious process start to end, and painful to make the decision to separate the family for this period. We do what is best for us at this point and can only hope that a vaccine for COVID-19 can be found soon, travel bans lifted and some normalcy can be resumed. Meanwhile, we strive to stay safe with good habits and avoid crowds and just count down to the day the family can be reunited.
For all those reading this and still stuck overseas, persevere and don’t give up, good luck.
A thank you note to the local staff who has worked tirelessly to care for us and catering to our whims during this quarantine period.
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