party island of Phuket opens – From July 1, tourists can travel to Phuket without quarantine for the first time since March 2020.
In Thailand’s much-discussed “sandbox” pilot plan, its largest island has reopened to vaccinated travelers, following a laundry list of rules designed to safely resume tourism amid the pandemic willing to follow.
The plan hinges on a concerted vaccination campaign to vaccinate 70% of Phuket’s population, a goal that local officials said they met earlier this month, with 74% of residents being vaccinated.
Local media have questioned this figure, which is in contrast to Thailand’s nationwide vaccination rate of around 4%. But confirmed COVID cases in Phuket have dropped dramatically. The island reported single-digit daily cases this week, while Thailand reported its third highest daily case total – 5,406 infections – on June 27.
The “sandbox” plan turns Phuket into a testing ground for the protocol, which, if successful, will likely be introduced in other parts of Thailand – and potentially in other destinations in Southeast Asia – this year.
The test of tourists’ appetite for rules
But Phuket, like most of Southeast Asia, isn’t making it easy for tourists to enter.
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), to avoid quarantine in Phuket, visitors must show:
A vaccination certificate with a vaccine approved by the World Health Organization, or Thai health authorities, administered at least 14 days prior to arrival; allowed with children
A negative RT-PCR test (taken within 72 hours of departure)
A medical insurance policy of at least $100,000 that covers your stay
an approval called a certificate of admission to enter
Proof of payment for a 14-night stay and required COVID tests, or if the stay lasts less than two weeks, passengers must also show confirmed flights departing from Thailand
Evidence that travelers have visited a low-risk or medium-risk country in the past 21 days on a list that is mostly in Thai on the website of the Thailand Department of Disease Control
Selecting countries and regions in the list of Thailand
Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United kingdom, united states
Upon arrival, passengers must undergo a health check-up and download a monitoring application called ThailandPlus. They will also have to pay for the Covid-19 test and wait for the result at their hotel. Additional tests are needed on day 6 or 7 of travel, and again on day 12 or 13, for those staying longer.
Those who test negative can travel freely around Phuket and other parts of Thailand after 14 days, provided they practice social distancing, submit for temperature checks and according to the tourism authority’s website Wear a mask
Masks are required in public areas, such as the beach and in cars.
Officials recommend, but do not require, tourists to use “SHA+” restaurants and taxis in Phuket.
Tourists must prepay and stay at hotels or homestays certified as “SHA+” indicating they have met Safety and Health Administration measures and vaccinated over 70% of staff.
According to TAT’s website, anyone who tests positive will be “referred to specified health care facilities for medical treatment at their own expense”.
In happy times, more visitors than Rome
With nearly 11 million arrivals, Phuket was the 15th most-visited city in the world in 2019, according to a report by consulting firm Euromonitor International, “Top 100 City Destinations.”
Sandwiched between Mumbai (No. 14) and Rome (No. 16), the island and its estimated 420,000 residents punched above their weight on the list, which counts international travelers but also domestic visitors, day-trippers and cruisers. not the passengers.
Despite the island’s popularity, Phuket’s reopening is expected to be muted. The Covid outbreak in Thailand in spring, combined with last week’s deadline for the “sandbox” plan, rule changes and late-stage government approval, could upset summer tourists, who have so far made other plans.
In countries where summer travel is returning, there is a preference for domestic travel and long hauls for flying, especially on the types of long-haul flights that require reaching Thailand from the United States or Europe.
Thailand’s neighbors might not even be packing their bags. Nowhere has tourism resumed in Southeast Asia, where strict quarantines and sluggish vaccination campaigns have eroded summer tourism prospects.
Unvaccinated tourists can visit Phuket, although they will have to quarantine for 14 nights in designated hotels.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, this is not good news for Thailand, as around 72% of overnight visitors in 2019 came from Asia. Nearly a quarter of all tourists to Thailand are from China, which is not yet allowing residents to travel freely for leisure tourism.
According to the Bangkok Post, about 1,500 people are expected to arrive in Phuket, a far cry from the daily average of 25,000 tourists it received before the pandemic.
But it is a start, and Thai officials hope to repeat it in other places soon.
What’s opening next?
With its sweet beaches and raucous nightlife, Phuket isn’t the only “sandbox” that operates in Thailand.
The islands of Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao have been approved to reopen to vaccinated travelers on July 15 under a similar plan. The cultural enclave of Chiang Mai, a city in the north of the country, may soon follow.
Jed Chandakant, regional director of booking website Trip.com for Thailand and Vietnam, said other countries could implement similar measures if Thailand’s sandbox plan proves successful.
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, direct flights to Phuket are being operated by British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.
“The entire travel industry will anticipate the reopening of Phuket,” he said. “We hope that the reopening of Phuket will usher in more ‘sandboxes’ to come, and will be a safe way to restart leisure tourism in Southeast Asia.”
For Thailand, the country could push toward reopening regardless of the outcome. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha indicated in a speech on 16 June that he was setting a target to open up all of Thailand by mid-October.
He added that Thailand “can’t wait for the time to open up the country or when the world is free of the virus, so everyone is fully vaccinated with two shots.”
“I know this decision comes with some risk because when we open up the country there will be an increase in infections, no matter how good our precautions are,” he said. “The time has come for us to take that calculated risk.”