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Pandemic tourism: Thailand launches Phuket ‘sandbox’ scheme


Thailand has opened up the popular resort island of Phuket to fully vaccinated foreigners from low-risk countries in an ambitious but risky plan it hopes will breathe new life into the pandemic-ravaged tourism industry.

PHUKET, Thailand – Thailand on Thursday launched an ambitious but risky plan it hopes will revitalize the pandemic-ravaged tourism industry, turning the popular resort island of Phuket to completely free foreigners from low-risk countries. open for vaccination.

As the first flight arrived, the airport’s fire trucks blew their water cannons to form an arch over the Etihad jet from Abu Dhabi as it taxed its gate.

A family with two children walked out of their arrival area, shaking hands at television cameras, and a man stopped to say he looked forward to walking on the beach soon.

But the number of new cases on the island itself is extremely low, daily in the single digits, and more than 70% of its residents are fully vaccinated. The government is gambling that travelers will be ready for the opportunity for a beach holiday after being in their home countries for months with coronavirus-related regulations.

Before the pandemic, the tourism sector made up about 20% of Thailand’s economy and 95% of Phuket’s income.

The resort island off the southern coast had less than half a million visitors in the first five months, and almost no foreigners, compared to more than 3 million, including about 2 million foreigners, during the same period last year.

As for the importance of the “sandbox” plan, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha personally flew to Phuket for the launch.

Some details of the program include last-minute hiccups and warnings from officials that more restrictions may be needed if cases on the island start to rise – or it may have to be shut down altogether – that means That to cancel something before it starts. Fewer than 250 international passengers were expected on the first day as against the initial target of 1,500.

But as the kinks are worked out and people report their firsthand experience, officials expect the numbers to rise steadily. From July 1-15, there are currently 1,101 overnight hotel bookings for a total of 13,116 rooms.

Travelers from other parts of Thailand are subject to a strict 14-day hotel room quarantine, but under the sandbox plan, visitors to Phuket will be allowed to roam the entire island – the country’s largest – where they can lounge on white beaches, jet… You can ski and enjoy eating out at the restaurant, although clubs and bars remain closed.

Only visitors from countries not deemed to be at “low” or “moderate” risk – currently most of Europe and the Middle East, a list including the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand – are permitted, and are allowed direct flights. Phuket, although plans are underway to allow carefully controlled transfers through Bangkok’s airport.

After the inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi, passengers were expected to arrive on Thursday from Qatar, Israel and Singapore.

Adult foreign visitors must provide proof of two vaccinations, a negative COVID-19 test no later than 72 hours before departure, and proof of an insurance policy that covers virus treatment for at least $100,000, among other things. Once on the island, they must comply with mask and distancing rules and take three COVID-19 tests at their own expense – about $300 total – and show negative results.

After 14 days, visitors can travel elsewhere in Thailand.

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Rising was reported from Bangkok. Associated Press writer Chalida Ekvittayvechanukul in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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