Thailand is committed to boosting its tourism-dependent economy by waiving COVID-19 quarantine requirements for vaccinated foreign travelers on the country’s Phuket vacation island.

The “Phuket Sandbox” plan, recently approved by the Thai cabinet to steer the country’s wider reopening, will allow foreign tourists to roam the island freely from July 1, provided they are fully against it Virus vaccinated and fly from what the government suspects of low or medium risk locations.

A poster lists the travel conditions for tourists to Phuket, Thailand. (Xinhua)

SELECTIVE REOPENING

Thailand was planning to reopen fully to international travelers in 120 days to “alleviate the tremendous suffering” of those who have lost their ability to earn an income, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said in a televised address during last week he reopened the Phuket “a pilot”.

Under the plan, eligible visitors can stay in Phuket for as long as their visas allow before leaving Thailand. However, you have to stay 14 nights on the island if you want to travel to another country in the country, according to the details published by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Travelers must be vaccinated with the vaccines approved by the Thai government or the World Health Organization at least 14 days before departure, the Thai authority added.

The tropical island was chosen as a pilot program because the epidemic is easier to control there and also has an established medical system, said Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, a senior TAT official.

Thailand’s strategy is to “selectively reopen” as it doesn’t have to be ready to take in foreign travelers just yet, but regions like Phuket need to bring them back to support the local tourism industry, Chattan said.

Phuket is busy vaccinating its residents before reopening. According to the Thai Center for COVID-19 Situation Management, more than 53 percent of the island’s residents were fully vaccinated by Tuesday, compared to a national level of over 3 percent.

After the island, other tourist destinations in the country, including Phang Nga, Krabi, Ko Samui, Pattaya and Chiang Mai, were also planning to reopen to international visitors in the fourth quarter of the year.

“ONE BABY STEP”

Analysts viewed Phuket reopening as the spark to ignite tourism rebound, but also raised concerns as the country continued to battle its worst wave of the COVID-19 outbreak to date.

On Wednesday, Thailand reported 3,174 new confirmed cases, bringing the nationwide number to 228,539, with more than 85 percent of those infections reported since the third wave of outbreaks began in early April.

International visitors might be concerned about Thailand’s COVID-19 situation, and to increase their confidence the government needs to accelerate vaccine rollout and improve epidemic prevention and control, said Wichai Kinchong Choi, senior vice president of Thailand’s leading bank, Kasikornbank .

Prayuth said last week that Thailand “needs to be ready to live with some risk” and “put people back in a position to earn a living”.

In 2019, Thailand allowed nearly 40 million foreign visitors and the pre-pandemic tourism sector contributed about a fifth to the country’s gross domestic product.

The next year, foreign arrivals fell around 83 percent to 6.7 million, with the first quarter being the only peak season before global travel bans.

Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association, called the reopening of Phuket “a baby step” in the recovery of the tourism sector, and said the association is forecasting a gradual increase in occupancy from less than 10 percent now to a maximum of 20 percent in July. October period and 30-40 percent year-end.

If the “Phuket Sandbox” plan is successful, it will provide a model for other similar tourism-dependent economies, Wichai said.

The Thai authorities warned that the worst case scenario in which Phuket reopening would be canceled if, for example, new infections in Phuket reach 90 cases per week, local transmissions occur in three counties or more than six villages, or health facilities exceed 80 percent of capacity on the island .