Phuket still on course for July reopening

After being shuttered to international travellers since last March due to the pandemic, the resort island of Phuket is moving forward with plans to reopen to vaccinated international tourists without quarantine from July 1st. 

The reopening project, titled Sandbox, will require Phuket to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating 70 percent of its population, including workers in the tourism sector and residents, before the first international traveller arrives. 

“International tourists must be fully vaccinated in order to visit Phuket,” Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, told Thai Enquirer by phone on Tuesday. This means they have to complete all the doses required for a given vaccine brand. 

Foreign visitors who wish to visit the resort island must present their vaccination certificate when applying for their visas. They must have been inoculated at least 14 days prior to their application. Travelers must present their vaccine certification again at the airport upon their arrival to the kingdom. 

The brand of the vaccine must be approved by either the World Health Organization or the Food and Drug Administration in Thailand, as well as the authorities in the traveller’s country of origin. 

These travellers must stay on the island for at least seven days before travelling anywhere else in the country. Those not planning to visit another Thai province, however, can stay for less than seven days before returning home.

The reopening is aimed to attract European travellers, thousands of whom visited Phuket in the third and fourth quarter prior to the pandemic.

“It’s hard to say how many visitors Sandbox will bring,” said Bhummikitti. While discussions have been ongoing, the authorities have yet to finalize specific measures for the Sandbox project. Questions that still need to be answered include whether and how the traveller will be tested during their stay, as well as how children will travel.  

“The success of the model depends on how friendly these settings are for the tourists,” noted  Bhummikitti. “If the rules and regulations are not friendly, no one will come and there will be no economic activity.”

With no international tourists arriving in Phuket for more than a year, Phuket’s tourism-based economy has been wrecked. Up to 100,000 workers are estimated to have lost their job during the pandemic, causing residents’ income to plummet. 

Beginning next month, the island will ease COVID-19 restrictions. Establishments including spas, scuba-diving businesses, martial-arts schools and golf courses will be allowed to reopen under a new set of guidelines. Staff or service providers of businesses such as massage parlours, tattoo shops, nurseries and aesthetic clinics must be fully vaccinated or have received one dose of AstraZeneca. 

According to previous roll-out plans, 70 per cent of the island’s population is expected to receive both shots or at least one shot of AstraZeneca by June 15. However, Bhummikitti believes there may be some delays. 

As of Tuesday, 3,609,882 doses of vaccines have been administered in Thailand. 1,110,953 people have received both doses. 

Mass vaccination programs will start in Thailand on June 7. Foreigners will also be able to register for their inoculations at vaccination centers starting on that day. 

Vaccinations for foreigners living in Phuket, meanwhile, have been open since May 19. 8,585 people had received both doses as of May 20.   

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