Phuket attracts tourists despite rising Covid-19 cases in Thailand

The Phuket Sandbox plan is attracting more and more travelers to Thailand as the Covid-19 epidemic gains momentum in the rest of the country.

A week after the launch of an ambitious but risky plan to open up Thailand’s tourist island of Phuket to vaccinated travelers, encouraging signs show that the maneuver to resuscitate the decimated tourist industry is working, even as infections elsewhere in the world are working. countries reached record highs on Thursday, July 8.

Phuket welcomed 2,399 visitors in the first week

Fireworks organized to celebrate the return of tourists to Phuket during the “Colors of Phuket” festival. Photo: Thai PBS World

After welcoming less than 5,000 foreign travelers in the first five months of the year, the island in southern Thailand, whose economy is 95% dependent on the tourism industry, welcomed 2,399 visitors. during the first week of July.

Phuket’s “sandbox” plan is based on a strategy of vaccinations, tests and restrictions.

Authorities hope these measures are stringent enough to mitigate any threat from Covid-19, while still leaving tourists enough freedom to enjoy their beach vacation.

In the week before the sandbox started on July 1, Phuket recorded 17 new cases of the coronavirus.

The numbers climbed in the first week, but remained low, to 27 new cases.

Record of infection in the rest of the country

At the same time, Thailand as a whole has seen a spike in infections, with a record 7,058 cases reported Thursday, July 8 and 75 deaths, making many people skeptical that Phuket will continue to reopen. at the moment.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has been personally criticized for his handling of the outbreak, and political cartoons have shown him sitting on the beach having fun while Thais died from the virus.

Prayuth Chan-ocha was also forced to self-isolate this week, as Veerasak Pisanuwong, chairman of the Surin Chamber of Commerce, confirmed he tested positive for the virus after attending the Phuket reopening ceremony with the prime minister July 1.

The Phuket Sandbox experienced some initial issues, but is now fully operational

Last minute issues led to cancellations even before the program started, and the initial target of 30,000 visitors for July was reduced to 18,000.

Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourism Association, said now that the program is up and running, he expects 30,000 foreign visitors in August.

There is still a long way to go to find the 2 million foreigners that Phuket saw in the first five months of last year as the pandemic began.

“The Covid-19 situation could affect the overall image of the country, but I think visitors will understand that Phuket is safe enough for them and this should not affect their travel plans,” he said.

The first tourists are satisfied

1st family to arrive for the Phuket Sandbox

The Sellers, the first family to arrive in Phuket for the Sandbox plan, are enjoying the beach. Photo: Phuket Info Center

Liron Or, an Israeli tourist, decided to treat herself to a 10-day trip to Phuket with her husband and five children when she first heard about the sandbox project three weeks ago.

They arrived on day one and she said the opportunity to relax on vacation outweighed any mandatory precautions.

“The process is not too difficult,” she said.

“And this trip gives our children such great joy.

There aren’t too many tourists here on the beaches right now. “

Travelers arriving elsewhere in Thailand are subject to a strict 14-day quarantine in hotel rooms, but under the “sandbox” plan visitors to Phuket can roam the entire island – the largest in the country – where they can lounge on the beaches, go jet-skiing and eat in restaurants.

Visitors are only allowed from countries considered to be of low or medium risk.

See: The list of high, medium, low risk countries to travel to Thailand

So far, most of them have come from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, United Arab Emirates, France and Israel.

Adult foreign visitors must provide proof of a full vaccination, a negative Covid-19 test no later than 72 hours before departure and insurance covering treatment for the virus, among others.

See: Latest general information on the reopening of Thailand

Prior to the start of the program, about 70% of the island’s approximately 450,000 residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and all frontline workers in restaurants, hotels and others were fully immunized.

So far, only one visitor has tested positive for coronavirus, a man from the United Arab Emirates who was taken to hospital for treatment and all passengers who were in his group have been quarantined.

Angela Luxy Smith, a Briton who works in Qatar and has visited Thailand regularly in the past, jumped at the chance to return.

She and her husband plan to make the most of the program, staying in Phuket for the first 14 days, then visiting other places in Thailand, before returning to Phuket for another week to wrap up a 40-day vacation. .

She and her husband were amazed at the number of restaurants open in some areas that cater more to residents, but said many remained closed on beaches that were once very popular with tourists.

“It’s so strange, quiet and closed, so sad for many people who depend on tourism,” she said.

“We hope people will come back very soon.”

Phuket currently has 131,809 hotel room reservations for July, 9,745 for August and 1,094 for September.

Stricter Covid-19 measures are in preparation

Angela Luxy Smith’s travel plans to other parts of Thailand are at risk of being turned upside down as new restrictions on domestic travel are in the works.

Unless she and her family decide to visit other islands that will soon be reopened to travelers.

See: Reopening of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, what you need to know

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Thursday, July 8 that stricter measures were needed to deal with the increase in infections and deaths from Covid-19 in recent weeks.

The Ministry of Public Health is proposing stricter measures, including limiting inter-provincial travel, to control the spread of Covid-19 following the appearance of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The Covid-19 Situation Administration Center (CCSA) is scheduled to meet this Friday to discuss disease control measures.

In addition to restricting travel within and outside the provinces, the ministry’s proposal also plans to change the opening hours of public transport and businesses to reduce travel.

The CCSA has urged people to avoid travel as the number of cases continues to rise and many cases involve people who have left Bangkok, the epicenter of the infections, to return to their hometowns.

According to Apisamai Srirangson, spokesperson for the CCSA, checkpoints could be set up to monitor movements.

“The principle is to limit the movements of people outside their locality and to prohibit inter-provincial movements.”

The CCSA spokesperson added that the potential tightening of restrictions is not a “lockdown”.

“The Ministry of Public Health did not mention a lockdown measure, but did point to changes in the opening hours of shops and services in some areas and provinces.”

Source: AP, The Thaiger

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