By Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will receive its first foreign vacationers when a flight from China arrives next week, marking the gradual restart of a vital tourism sector battered by coronavirus travel curbs, a senior official said on Tuesday.
The first flight will have about 120 tourists from Guangzhou, flying directly to the resort island of Phuket, Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.
Thailand has kept coronavirus infections low with just 3,559 cases and 59 deaths, but its economy has taken a hit from a ban on foreign visitors since April and is expected to contract 8.5% this year.
Government spokeswoman Traisulee Traisoranakul expects 1,200 tourists in the first month, generating about 1 billion baht ($31.55 million) in revenue and 12.4 billion baht over one year, drawing in 14,400 tourists.
Nationalities permitted to enter will be from countries deemed low risk by the government, which will keep tabs on them.
"We are not opening the country, we are limiting the number of entries and will manage with wrist bands, apps to follow them," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.
The government predicts just 6.7 million foreign visitors this year after a record 39.8 million in 2019, whose spending made up about 11.4% of GDP, or 1.93 trillion baht.
Thailand in January was the first country outside of China to detect the coronavirus, in a visitor from Wuhan.
"Tourists will be on a long stay visa, starting Oct. 8 and will stay in alternative state quarantine for 14 days," Yuthasak said.
Visitors need health insurance and a negative coronavirus test 72 hours before travelling and will be tested twice in quarantine.
"Thailand's protection system can prevent a second wave," government spokeswoman Traisulee said.
"We have prevented local transmission for 100 days before," she said, adding that had made Thailand attractive for visitors wanting to avoid infections.
($1 = 31.7000 baht)
(Writing by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Martin Petty)