Thailand opens Phuket island to vaccinated tourists
Do you dream of golden beaches and the caress of tropical breezes? So consider a vacation on the island of Phuket.
This is the speech of the Thai government, which has seen its tourism-dependent economy hit by the pandemic. On Tuesday, the Thai cabinet approved a plan, called the Phuket Sandbox, that will allow vaccinated international visitors to roam the island without having to quarantine themselves for 14 days, as is the current policy for arrivals in Thailand.
“I am very happy that this is finally happening,” said Nanthasiri Ronnasiri, head of the Phuket branch of the Thailand Tourism Authority. “Business here has been devastated. With this reopening, at least people have the opportunity to welcome tourists again. “
But Phuket Sandbox – which is set to kick off on July 1 with five flights from Singapore, Qatar, Israel and the United Arab Emirates – might not give the economic boost its supporters were hoping for. And the late date of official approval, with many international travelers having already made summer plans, makes it unlikely that crowds of sun seekers will descend on the island anytime soon.
The plan allows tourists fully vaccinated with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization to spend 14 days in Phuket without having to be confined to a hotel room. After two weeks and multiple Covid-19 tests, tourists, who must be from countries considered to be at low or medium risk for the coronavirus, will be allowed to travel to the rest of Thailand.
While in Phuket, they will be able to swim and snorkel, drink beer, and enjoy an invigorating Thai massage, all without any restrictions. (Masks are still mandatory in public, however.)
Health officials have warned that Phuket Sandbox could be suspended if coronavirus infections on the island exceed 90 cases per week. Thailand is currently suffering from its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, and the massive deployment of a vaccine is well behind schedule. Only about 3 percent of the country’s 70 million people have been fully immunized, despite government promises to administer 100 million doses by the end of the year.
To prepare for the reopening of Phuket, the Thai government has started shipping vaccines to the island this year. Despite this, less than 45% of people in Phuket have been fully immunized, according to health officials. And many have been inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine, which may not be as effective against the variants as other vaccines.
Some Thai doctors argue the country shouldn’t open up so quickly, even for a pilot project on a sequestered island.
“There is always a risk when you host them without quarantining that they will carry the virus into the country, especially when it comes to the variant of concern,” said Thira Woratanarat, public health expert at the University. Chulalongkorn from Bangkok. “There will be a chance that it will spread in the community. “
Cases of the beta variant that were first identified in South Africa have appeared in and around a religious school in southern Thailand. The Delta variant, first discovered in India, appeared in construction worker camps in Bangkok.
But for the Thai tourism industry, Phuket Sandbox cannot come quickly enough. Ms Nanthasiri of the Thai Tourism Authority said a survey among drivers, guides, boat staff, cleaners, hotel workers and others in the vacation industry there showed massive support for the opening of Phuket to vaccinated tourists.
“For now, they are more afraid of having nothing to eat than of contracting the Covid,” she said. “Famine is more frightening.”