The Phuket COVID-19 Sandbox Program Starts Today

On July 1, 2021, the Phuket Tourism Sandbox, a pilot phase of Thailand’s ambitious tourism reopening plan, will open on the resort island amid hope and fear.

Many businesses rely heavily on tourism to boost their profit margins, but locals fear that the pro-tourism program may result in a new outbreak of Covid-19.

In the third quarter of this year from July to September, Phuket is expected to attract over 100,000 foreign tourists, generating about 8.9 billion baht in tourism revenue.

Four hundred twenty-six passengers and three thousand sixteen hundred outbound travellers will use 426 flights in July. Anucha Burapachaisri, a government spokesman, said the southern island province will average 13 flights per day.

According to Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), 249 tourists are scheduled to arrive in Thailand Thursday on flights from Israel, Abu Dhabi and Qatar under the Phuket Sandbox programme.

He said the tourists will remain in Phuket for at least 14 days, during which they will undergo two more Covid-19 tests to ensure they are free of Coronavirus.

Phuket hopes to strike a balance between driving the economy with tourism and controlling the spread of Covid-19 from July 1, according to provincial governor Narong Wunsiew.

According to him, foreign visitors arriving in Phuket under the Phuket Sandbox programme are not the ones worrying the province when it comes to outbreak containment. Those who will arrive in the province by land from within Thailand.

The Chatchai security checkpoint, the main Covid-19 checkpoint on the road leading to Phuket, still needs more staff and technology to ensure that everyone entering the island is thoroughly screened, he said.

“Only those with proof of vaccination against Covid-19 will be allowed into Phuket,” he said.

Under the tourism sandbox programme, Patong beach appears to be the most popular destination for foreign tourists.

He said 1,671 visitors had booked 383 rooms at hotels in the Patong beach area.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will visit Phuket on July 1, 2021.

On arrival at Phuket international airport, he will greet and welcome foreign tourists and visit the security checkpoint.

Local health group president Manot Saithong said that according to an online survey of 1,112 residents, the most common concern is that tourists under the tourism sandbox programme could bring a more virulent variant of the coronavirus into the province and cause a new outbreak.

Foreign tourists also have doubts about whether they will strictly follow the control measures imposed on them by Covid-19, Manot said.

Thailand has also raised doubts over the effectiveness of Covid-19 screening among Thai tourists, he said, adding that if a new outbreak occurs in Phuket, young people will be affected since they are the only group of the population without vaccination.

Don Limnanthaphisit, president of a club of residents in Phuket’s old town, has called for stricter Covid-19 screening at all schools for students who may have contracted the virus from their parents who might have contracted it from tourists.

Thanusak Phuengdet, president of Phuket’s Chamber of Commerce, estimates that 13 billion baht will be generated in tourism-related income if all 100,000 foreign tourists who have already booked their visits to Phuket in the next three months actually come, he said.

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