Starting in July, tourists to Thailand will have to fly directly to Phuket to enjoy quarantine-free stays. Only tourists vaccinated against Covid-19 qualify for the program.
The Centre for Economic Situation Administration, a special economic council, chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, decided on Friday. The cabinet will endorse the plan as soon as Tuesday at its regular weekly meeting.
The Thai cabinet is still discussing other requirements. Visitors will have to show proof that they have been vaccinated. They will still require to take PCR tests at the airport. Visitors will also need to install a tracing app provided by the government.
The island of Samui, another tourism hot spot, will not be eligible for the program. The government decided the island’s airport is too small to handle direct international flights. Previously, local media reports indicated that it would be a strong candidate for the island quarantine concept.
“If the country opens up faster for foreign tourists, it will allow us to raise income faster,” said Danucha Pichayanan. Mr Pichayanan is the secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council’s office — the government’s planning agency.
Lesser Tourists spell trouble for Thailand.
Tourism-related businesses account for roughly 20% of gross domestic product for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. During a virtually visitor-less 2020, service exports — which include spending by nonresidents such as tourists — slumped 60.0% compared to 2019.
The economy as a whole shrank 6.1%, the fastest contraction since the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. On Wednesday, the Bank of Thailand cut its growth forecast for 2021 to 3.0% from 3.2%.
According to the Government, business operators on the island have approved the plan beforehand. “They have joined forces and offer to be a reopening model for major tourist provinces,” said Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow on Thursday. “There are flights to the province and hotels to attract quality tourists,” he added.
For the “sandbox” experiment to begin, Phuket must achieve herd immunity by inoculating 70% of the population, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand Gov. Yuthasak Supasorn. The plan is to roll out the first round of vaccinations from April 15. The second round will be from May 15.
Phuket Island is home to 414,471 people as of 2020, according to the Ministry of Interior.
The sandbox plan is not the only reopening measure the government intends to implement in the coming months. The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration, the government’s coronavirus policy body, has proposed shortening the kingdom’s quarantine period for international arrivals to 10 days from 14, starting April 1. It has not clarified its reasoning, and no official cabinet endorsement has been released via the public journal, the Royal Gazette.
In conclusion, the coronavirus policy organ has an ambitious plan to reopen the entire country by October. The government is also building up a third terminal for Krabi.