The reopening of Phuket begins
Prayut tells audience it’s worth the risk
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha greets foreign tourists from a Singapore Airlines flight at Phuket Airport on Thursday. (Photo by Government House)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told the public that Thailand must accept the risk of reopening the country, starting on Thursday with the Phuket Sandbox program to welcome foreign tourists.
The country has high hopes for a much needed revival of tourism via the sandbox, a model that allows foreign travelers vaccinated to go without quarantine.
General Prayut was convinced that the country’s tourism would be resuscitated if all parties involved succeeded in moving the agenda forward.
According to the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), if more than 15 new infections are detected per 100,000 inhabitants in Phuket in a week, the sandbox may be delayed or even canceled.
The prime minister, along with ministers and senior health officials, arrived on the resort island to meet with health officials and volunteers.
They visited Phuket International Airport to welcome a group of 51 tourists from Singapore in the evening.
“Hello, welcome to Thailand,” General Prayut greeted incoming tourists who did not know in advance that they would be greeted by him.
A total of 347 passengers on flights from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Singapore landed on Thursday.
Etihad Airway flight EY430 on the Abu Dhabi-Phuket-Suvarnabhumi route arrived at 10:20 am with 44 passengers. Twenty-three disembarked in Phuket while the rest proceeded to Suvarnabhumi.
The first group of travelers then underwent screening, which included fever and vaccination checks. Everyone had to download the Thailand Plus and Mor Chana apps.
They then went through immigration and customs procedures before having swab samples taken for RT-PCR testing.
They were then taken to their hotels where they had to wait 24 hours for the test results. If the results are negative, they will be able to travel to other parts of the island. If they are positive, they will be taken to hospital immediately.
The other three flights to Phuket on Thursday came from Qatar with 136 passengers landing at 12:43 p.m., Israel with 137 passengers at 1:52 p.m. and Singapore with 51 passengers at 5:14 p.m.
As of Thursday, Phuket lifted quarantine requirements for foreign tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 under the sandbox model, which is being touted as a model for reopening the country’s tourism industry.
An airport official holds a “Sandbox” sign as she leads passengers to the arrivals lounge at Phuket Airport. (Photo by Government House)
However, as a precaution, tourists will need to stay on the island for 14 days before being allowed to travel to other destinations in the country.
Early in the day, General Prayut inspected the airport checkpoint before heading to the Royal Phuket City Hotel in Muang District to chair a follow-up meeting on the sandbox program.
“The flights have started arriving, with reservations made. More flights are expected to arrive in the next 15 days until the next quarter. If the Phuket Sandbox is successful, we can expand the model to other areas,” said the Prime Minister.
He said the reopening of Phuket is not just for the benefit of the tourist province alone, but for the good of the whole country.
Other provinces are expected to follow Phuket’s lead and come up with measures to prepare for the country’s reopening over the next 120 days, General Prayut said.
He stressed that reopening Thailand requires thoughtful action plans and takes into account people’s livelihoods and businesses.
An Etihad Airways plane passes through a “water tunnel” to greet the first group of tourists to arrive on the resort island. (Photo by Phuket Provincial Public Relations Office)
âWe know there are risks involved. Some countries are experiencing a further increase in the number of new cases and deaths and people from those countries are expected to visit Thailand. But we have to accept the risk. More importantly, we have to monitor and assess the situation closely, âsaid General Prayut.
“If there is anything that needs to be changed, action needs to be taken quickly and properly to ensure that the goal of reopening the country within the next 120 days will not be affected,” he said.
âIt all starts with the first step. We need to speed up in Phuket. Otherwise, we cannot move forward, âhe said, adding that the government is not only tackling Covid-19, but is also trying to overcome the economic blow caused by the pandemic.
General Prayut and his delegation returned to Bangkok at 7 p.m.