Despite the lifting of the COVID-19 masking mandate, many locals continue to wear face masks due to concerns about air pollution. Air quality is typically poor in Thailand from November to February during the dry season, when farmers burn sugarcane fields before harvesting and automobile emissions contribute to the pollution. The north, Bangkok, and surrounding areas are the most severely impacted due to their large agricultural industry.
The delay in automakers meeting Europe's Euro 5 emissions standard for their new cars, which has been pushed back to January 2024, has also contributed to the problem. If air pollution is not addressed soon, it could not only impact public health but also harm the country's tourism industry, which has been identified as a key driver of the economy.
Although Thailand is attempting to promote long-term stays by wealthy visitors and medical tourism to boost the industry's recovery from the pandemic, such campaigns may prove futile as health-conscious individuals are likely to avoid smog-choked cities. Kriengkrai Thiennukul, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, warns that international tourists may decide to postpone or cancel their visits to the country, or choose alternative destinations with cleaner air, causing damage to the industry.