Phuket to reopen to vaccinated tourists without quarantine: 5 things to know

BANGKOK – In less than a week, Thailand will start accepting international travelers vaccinated in Phuket.

The limited reopening, dubbed “Phuket’s sandbox”, will be an important stepping stone that could pave the way for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to allow tourists to walk around its soil by mid-October .

The successful reopening of Phuket is key to the recovery of Thailand’s economy, as tourism and related businesses accounted for one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product in the pre-COVID era.

To balance the convenience of incoming visitors with the risk of infection for residents, the government has established complicated rules for entering Andaman Island.

What is the Phuket sandbox?

The Phuket Sandbox is a field experiment that the Thai government has decided to conduct on the world famous island. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s office gave final approval on Tuesday to start the experiment from July 1.

Phuket will accept vaccinated tourists from overseas without a quarantine period. They will be able to roam around the tropical island after testing negative for the virus upon arrival. If they are going to other destinations in Thailand, they must spend at least 14 nights in Phuket before leaving.

Incoming travelers will also need to download an app tracking their location. The data will be used to inform them if they have been in close contact with any cases of the virus.

Who will be able to visit the island?

Incoming travelers should be fully immunized at least 14 days prior to departure with vaccines registered with the Thai Ministry of Public Health or approved by the World Health Organization. A vaccination certificate must be presented as proof.

A negative result to the PCR test issued no later than 72 hours before departure must also be presented. They must also purchase insurance for expenses related to COVID-19, with a minimum coverage of $ 100,000.

Visitors are to arrive on a direct flight from a low to medium risk country classified by the Thai Ministry of Public Health using daily confirmed cases and the global COVID-19 index released by the company. Malaysian Council Pemandu Associates, and must have spent at least 21 days in that country prior to departure.

Phuket Old Town is seen in Mueang Phuket District, Phuket, Thailand on Monday, January 20, 2020 © AP

The list of countries is updated twice a month. The most recent list, released on June 16, shows low risk areas include Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Qatar, Israel and Norway.

China, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Turkey, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Finland and United States part of the medium risk category.

Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, India, Oman, Netherlands, France and Brazil are considered very risky. Thailand falls under the category of high risk countries.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Singapore Airlines, El Al Israel Airlines, Etihad Airways and Emirates will operate direct flights from July 1 and Thai Airways International will start the next day.

Why would the Thai government conduct such an experiment?

Using the Phuket sandbox experience as a stepping stone, Thailand has a plan to gradually open up the country to international tourists.

From July 15, the kingdom is expected to expand its approach to reopen the island to Samui, about 250 km northeast of Phuket. If visitors to Samui will not initially be able to move freely on the tropical island like in Phuket, they will be able to move around their resort without being confined to their room, and travel further in stages.

The approach will be extended to other islands such as Phi Phi, Ngai, Railay and Yao in southern Thailand from August, according to the Tourism Authority. The mainland tourist destinations of Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Buriram will start accepting vaccinated tourists from September. From mid-October, all parts of Thailand, including Bangkok, will be reopened to vaccinated tourists without quarantine.

Tourism and related businesses accounted for 20% of the country’s gross domestic product. The Thai economy shrank 6.1% in 2020 due to a lack of tourists. On Wednesday, the Bank of Thailand lowered its economic outlook for 2021 and 2022 from 3.0% and 4.7% to 1.8% and 3.9% respectively, as it saw the ongoing third wave of the pandemic of COVID-19 would reduce the number of tourists the country could allow.

What will make the experiment successful or unsuccessful?

The aim of the experiment is to build the confidence of Thais in accepting foreign tourists while controlling the local epidemic. This will help the government nurture a public mood accepting the gradual expansion of the program and eventually allow the country to fully reopen to vaccinated visitors.

Tourism and Sports Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn said a command center would be set up to monitor epidemics on the island. The center will determine whether to continue, suspend or completely stop the program, depending on the situation. Ninety confirmed cases per week, transmission in three districts or six sub-districts, or the wide dissemination of new variants would trigger an end to the experiment, affecting the plan for subsequent reopening.

What key factors could bring success?

Cooperation between tourists and residents to guard against the virus is of crucial importance.

To ensure the safety of Phuket residents and inbound travelers, islanders are now promptly vaccinated – as of Tuesday, 45.3% had received a second dose. The government is rushing to raise the percentage to over 70% before the reopening test begins.

Islanders are urged to strictly follow the precautions known as DMHTTA, which means distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands, checking the temperature, testing and installing an alert app.

In order to minimize the risk of the virus entering the kingdom, Thai authorities must rigorously check whether tourists properly meet all requirements.

Phuket may also have to regain its charms. Its turquoise blue waters and white sand beaches remain attractive, but long closures have permanently closed some popular restaurants and shops. Partygoers used to choose Phuket for debauchery, but pubs and bars are currently not allowed to operate, although restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol.

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