Phuket is due to open without quarantine, to fully vaccinated foreign tourists from 1st July. The current Covid outbreak in the country could put those plans in danger of collapse.
Phuket beach picture credit Arkady Lukashov on Unsplash
A further complication arose yesterday when the Thai government extended the nationwide state of emergency until 31st July. This will result that the Certificate of Entry, which would have been dropped under the Sandbox plans, will still be required prior to arrival.
In this seemingly ever-changing landscape we look at the latest information on the Phuket Sandbox which is seen as key in the gradual reopening of further areas of the country.
Phuket Sandbox Plans
All travellers will need to fly direct to Phuket airport although there is the possibility of transiting through Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport via a sealed terminal if capacity for international flights at Phuket is stretched.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) are working on Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to govern the entry process which will include Covid-19 testing and emergency procedures.
The Phuket Sandbox is initially targeting higher value tourists and tour packages will be able to be sold once the SOP have been approved by the government.
Final agreement for the Sandbox has not yet been given however.
The Tourism Council of Thailand and TAT are planning to meet with government agencies and tourism organisations on the island on 2nd June to discuss preparations.
The outcome of these discussions will then be presented to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on the 4th June, after which a final decision will be made if the Sandbox can proceed as planned.
Phuket province needs to vaccinate at least 70% of the population by 1st july to enable the Sandbox to commence. It also needs to ensure that there is a consistent single-digit infection rate, ideally zero.
Phuket has a population of 414,471, which means that at least 290,130 people need to be fully vaccinated by the end of June. By the end of April 93,341 had received both doses with another 200,000 second doses planned to be completed by the middle of June.
Daily infections have dropped to a single-digit rate for more than 10 days in Phuket. However in the last two weeks almost 20 foreign nationals have contracted the virus.
Thai Airways has started selling direct flights from four cities in Europe to Phuket as the province counts down to its planned quarantine-free reopening in July, with hundreds of tour agents invited to take experimental trips during the third quarter to test the scheme.
Do Tourists Want To Come
Generally it is thought that interest in visiting Thailand is relatively high but there are still a number of factors that will affect demand.
“Our travel surveys in several countries found tourists still want to come to Thailand, but seek unique, quality experiences.”Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas at Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)
Travel restrictions in many countries may mean that foreign travellers may not be able to travel or have restrictions placed upon them. Even if there is no quarantine requirements in Phuket, any restrictions placed on them on return will be a deterrent.
The lack of direct flights to Phuket from many countries is also seen as a potential issue. Earlier this month Thai Airways announced a number of new routes to the island to test the market demand.
There is also a lack of confidence that the Sandbox in Phuket will start on time and without further restrictions and the requirement to travel on expensive, approved, travel packages.
Initial demand is expected to be low therefore.
TAT has said that it expects 30,000 – 40,000 tourists per month in the first three months of the project, the majority of these are likely to come from long-haul travellers.
Record Covid Cases
Thailand had been highly successful in keeping Covid-19 out of the country and keeping cases relatively low.
The latest wave of infections, that is believed to started in the Bangkok entertainment district, has however changed the situation and cases and deaths have continued to increase.
Thailand today reported a record high daily deaths from Covid-19, 47, plus a further 3,323 new cases. This is the second consecutive day that daily deaths have hit a new high, there were 41 reported yesterday.
Since the pandemic began there have been 141,217 cases and 920 deaths.
Since the start of April, when the the third wave of infections hit the country, there have been 112,534 new cases, almost 80% of the total number, and 826 deaths, almost 90% of total deaths.
72% of the new cases in the last 24 hours were in Bangkok, the epicenter of the outbreak. However 55 provinces throughout the country reported at least 1 new case.
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