Think twice before sandboxing with children

PHUKET, 13 July 2021: It’s always a good idea to read the small print before opening the carton. The instructions might tell us to “use with caution.” That should apply to the Phuket Sandbox if you are planning family travel.

Popular Thailand blogger, Richard Barrow, tweeted an alert at the start of the Phuket Sandbox warning families of the potential risk when booking a Phuket holiday under the sandbox rules.

The small print was a mite too small for most of us to read or grasp, but a week after the first international flight arrived, 1 July, the risks made prominent headlines. Two young children (eight and nine) failed their second round of testing. Health workers whisked them off to the designated Covid-19 hospital for treatment. Their parents headed in a different direction, leaving their comfortable hotel of choice for a mandatory 14-day quarantine in an Alternative Local Quarantine hotel. It’s the unthinkable outcome, the worst-case scenario, and it should make families think twice about travelling to the Phuket Sandbox or any other destination under strict Covid-19 measures.

Being below the threshold age for vaccinations, the children boarded the airline with just RT-PCR negative test results. They tested negative again on arrival in Phuket but failed the third test seven days later. They were halfway through the 14-day stay on the island.

We can imagine the traumatic experience that unfolded as the health workers dressed head-to-toe in protective suits directed operations that separated children from parents in what would seem a strange and foreign land.

Fortunately, health authorities recognised this and adapted the rule to allow the father to stay with them. He will have to quarantine for another 14 days once the children leave the hospital.

The small print should be much bigger and bolder. Parents with young children below the vaccination age need to gain more clarity on the risks and scenarios that could unfold if a swab test turns positive before they start the booking process.

Health rules apply that will separate families if something goes wrong, and for young children, that risk should be unacceptable. It’s called “duty-of-care.” The destination’s influencers and authorities must be much more precise when telling travellers what they could encounter when they land in the Phuket Sandbox. Reword the packaging: “Not recommended for children below the vaccination age.”

Another case last week involved a traveller who occupied the unlucky seat on a flight from Dubai, just a row from a passenger who tested positive on arrival in Phuket. She and 13 others headed for quarantine when the test results came in the following morning. Sitting two rows in front or behind a person who tests positive sends you automatically to quarantine. The good news is your pre-paid hotel accommodation is then credited to the quarantine venue. Unfortunately, your holiday in Phuket is in tatters. You posted negative results along the way only to be tripped up by a seat row allocation that placed you close to someone who would test positive on arrival.  Even though you tested negative, your status abruptly changes to “high-risk”, and you transfer to quarantine.

More than 4,500 travellers have landed in the Phuket Sandbox, 1 to 11 July. Just five have tested positive, which is an acceptable risk for adult vaccinated travellers.  But for families with young children, think twice. Take a rain check.

3 COMMENTS

  1. The bottom line is to think twice before sandboxing in Phuket (and later other destinations in Thailand), spend your holidays in Europe, Mexico, America, etc. just don’t come here…. and that’s from a travel agent.

  2. The UAE traveler who tested positive was vaccinated. Therefore, even if children were vaccinated the risk would be the same. Think twice before taking children to the sandbox. Children 15 or older who are comfortable enough being away from their parents might be an exception, but younger children definitely shouldn’t use the scheme.

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