Hopes will ride on Sandbox success

PHUKET, 29 June 2021: Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to visit Phuket Island on 1 July to officially open the island’s Sandbox project.

The island’s beleaguered travel industry is pinning its hopes on the “pilot” scheme to trigger recovery, but it will be a slow start as a nation-wide surge in Covid-19 cases (more than 5,000 new cases reported Monday) puts Thailand in the high-risk category, according to assessments made by the Global Covid-19 Index.

Expectations are realistic within the travel industry. It’s a start for a country that saw tourist arrivals plummet from more than 39 million in 2019 to 6.7 million. If the gamble succeeds, the government says it will replicate the scheme at other island destinations, and by October, a phased reopening could take place. However, reopening will depend entirely on the country accelerating its vaccination programme as fast as possible. It will also require bringing the massive increases in cases and the rising death toll under control fast.

On Monday, the Thai government decided to close off high-risk areas, including construction worker housing, in Greater Bangkok and in four southern border provinces, for 30 days effective 28 June, according to the National News Bureau of Thailand.

The news agency quoted the Prime Minister saying, “measures are intended to deal with the main sources of Covid-19 clusters over the past several weeks.”

The near lockdown measures impact Bangkok and its surrounding provinces as well as Pattani, Yala, Songkhla and Narathiwat in the deep south of the country.

 Construction worker camps will be closed for a month, and the Labor Ministry will compensate jobless workers.

NNT said the measures would restrict travel but would fall short of a  complete ban. Strict Covid-19 restrictions are now being enforced in 10 provinces: Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Prakan, Nonthaburi, Samut Sakhon, Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani, and Songkhla.

Even bloggers who usually promote travel in Thailand warned their thousands of followers to think twice.

Richard Barrow, perhaps the most famous of Thailand’s travel bloggers, summed it up. “Is your journey really necessary? If you live in the dark red zones… (Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Pathom, Songkhla, Yala, Pattani & Narathiwat) you are encouraged to stay within your province for at least another month.

“A number of provinces have started issuing quarantine orders for anyone travelling from high-risk zones. If you must travel, always check before you leave so there are no unpleasant surprises on arrival. Please also note there are some provinces where you need a travel permit just to leave.”

He continued: “If you are heading to Chiang Mai from provinces in the dark red zone, you must do a swab test on arrival, even if vaccinated. If you live there, you must do 14-day quarantine at home. Others must pay for ALQ quarantine. The message is clear, only travel if your journey is necessary.”

Other social media channels targeting foreign travellers to Thailand posted warnings.

“Most provinces in the far south have introduced stricter lockdowns. They won’t allow you to travel in or out unless your journey is really necessary. This notice is for Songkhla. If you want to leave the province, you must get a travel permit first.”

They cited Chanthaburi province on the east coast of Thailand. “You must do a covid test on arrival and then self-isolate for 14 days.”

If you are heading for Nakhon Ratchasima in Northeast Thailand from the dark red or red zones, you must go to the city’s Maharaj Hospital for a Covid-19 PCR test on arrival and then quarantine for 24 hours while waiting for the results.”

Udon Thani, another northeastern province, requires arriving travellers from 22 high-risk provinces to undergo a 14-day quarantine on arrival in state accommodation. Home quarantine is no longer allowed.

Thailand’s northeastern province of Buri Ram makes it compulsory for all visitors to undergo 14 days of local quarantine.

Arrivals from the lower risk orange zones will be required to report to local disease control officials for health assessments. A rapid test will be conducted on suspicious cases and, if they are cleared of infection, they will still be required to isolate at home for 14 days.