Phuket was declared 100 per cent ready to receive foreign tourists from Thursday, with few Covid-19 cases, high vaccination rates and hotels fully prepared
In an exclusive interview with The Nation Thailand on Tuesday, Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn confirmed the Phuket sandbox scheme would launch on Thursday (July 1).
To those who do not know already, Phuket will be the first province to kickstart Thailand’s tourism revival by opening to foreign travellers under the pilot sandbox scheme.
Under the scheme, tourists with proof of full Covid-19 inoculation and a negative test can fly into Phuket and move around freely without having to quarantine.
After 14 days in Phuket, they can then travel to other parts of Thailand.
The scheme is open to tourists from 63 countries and three territories.
Phiphat said government and local agencies have prepared for at least two months to ensure the scheme runs safely and smoothly.
“However, I am concerned about the possibility of workers returning to Phuket by land or boat without Covid-19 checks,” he said, adding that the Navy and marine authorities were on alert for people sneaking back to the island.
“If this hole is completely plugged, Phuket should be 100 per cent safe from Covid-19 risk,” he explained.
The minister said 70 per cent of Phuket locals have now been vaccinated against Covid-19, while the safety of hotels and venues on the island was guaranteed by the government’s SHA+ certification.
He said a total of 13,000 rooms in Phuket hotels and resorts had been booked by foreign tourists, citing Tourism Authority of Thailand information on Tuesday.
Phiphat said he expected that figure to rise.
“About 30 to 40 per cent of tourists decided to cancel bookings following the change of quarantine period in Phuket,” he explained. “Initially, the government reduced quarantine to seven days, but it was restored to 14 days after the virus crisis in Thailand became more concerning.”
Asked about Samui in Surat Thani and Phi Phi in Krabi – the next resort islands due to open under the sandbox scheme – the minister confirmed the areas had been free of Covid-19 for months.
Vaccination programmes would ensure they were ready to reopen soon, he added.
Samui is scheduled to reopen on July 15 and Phi Phi on August 1.
“I am informed that no new cases have been found on Phi Phi in the past seven months and no one has tested positive on Krabi’s Ngai Island for the past three months,” the minister said.
From July 1, Phuket will also open to domestic travellers who have had at least one AstraZeneca jab or two doses of another Covid-19 vaccine.
Phiphat added that cases per day in Phuket were now down to single digits, despite Thailand’s current daily caseload of 4,000 to 5,000.