PHUKET, 26 March 2021: Phuket is making a bid to open the island to international tourists from 1 July but only for visitors who have been vaccinated.
There is another condition, according to Phuket’s Governor Narong Woonciew. The entire island’s population should be vaccinated in advance, although 70% at a pinch should be enough to get the project rolling.
If the plan succeeds, Phuket’s tourism industry is counting on it to survive financially for the remainder of the year. It will allow international travellers from low-risk countries to stay on the island without entering quarantine. They will have to show proof of a valid vaccination, possibly using travel pass apps such as the one launched by IATA. They will also have to undertake a PCR swab test for Covid-19 on arrival and join a track and trace programme using an app developed by the Ministry of Health.
It’s a tall order to vaccinate the entire population, but according to a report in the Phuket News, Thursday, the Ministry of Public Health has approved the required number of vaccination doses to make the 1 July reopening date possible.
Governor Narong explained the project and timeframe in a live broadcast on Wednesday evening on the island’s radio. He was joined by leaders of the island tourism industry associations.
The governor was quoted by Phuket News saying: “We had a meeting with tour operators from Europe. They explained that their customers were willing to do everything, such as swab testing at the airport and installing the tracking app, but they were not okay for vaccinated people to then face quarantine on arrival,” he said.
Phuket will need to accelerate the pace considerably to deliver enough jabs to arms to meet the deadline. There are 417,000 registered residents, and of those, 106,000 people are 18 years or less. That leaves the authorities with around 310,000 people who need to be vaccinated. The tourism doors will open if 70% of the registered population has been vaccinated, but the ultimate goal is to vaccinate everyone.
The island will start the campaign with 100,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine out of 800,000 doses delivered to Thailand’s health authorities last week.
Phuket Tourism Industry Council President Sarayuth Mallam explained to Phuket News that the 1 July reopening does not mean receiving tourists openly from all parts of the world.
Initially, Phuket will open to travellers from low-risk countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan. South Korea and China.
As it stands now, travellers from those countries can visit Thailand, but they are required to undergo a 15-day quarantine before their travels can begin in the country. They are also PCR tested twice during the quarantine period. However, they will then have to undergo a mandatory quarantine when they return home. The quarantine rule is at both ends and means 30 days are lost when travelling to countries that allow visits but still subject visitors to quarantine measures.
So while the move to cut quarantine for visitors from low-risk countries who are travelling to Phuket is welcomed, the burning question remains. Will they face quarantine when they return home? If that is the case, the Phuket proposal could fall short of its goal of bringing back tourism and saving the economy. That will bring us back to bilateral travel bubble negotiations. Without them, the quarantine trap remains when the traveller returns home.
(Note: The Phuket plan and a similar one emerging for Samui will still require CCSA and Thai Cabinet approval before they can be launched in earnest.)