Thai Government Approves Plan To Reopen Phuket Without Quarantine For Vaccinated Tourists From July 1, 2021

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A panel of government officials and medical advisors chaired by Thailand’s Prime Minister has approved a plan today that sees the opening of Phuket island to foreign visitors without quarantine as long as they have received a vaccine.

The targeted date for the “Sandbox Project” is July 1st and relies on the majority of Phuket residents (70%) having received a vaccine as well which is a rather unrealistic target at this point.

Thailand and their government liaison the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) which runs under the Ministry of Tourism & Sports have floated reopening plans for the country for the past 12 months ever since the government introduced a strict border and quarantine regime.

While Thailand was extremely lucky in terms of dodging the bullet with Covid-19, the border closure had of course a highly detrimental effect on the local economy and there has been plenty of pressure to open the country again to restart the ailing tourism sector. So far despite many TAT proposals none of them had panned out, mostly due to the volatile and fluent situation concerning Covid including a sudden re-emergence of infections in Thailand late December. Entertainment venues were shut for close to three months following this.

Now according to Bloomberg and local media the leadership has approved the plan itself to open at least Phuket on July 1st but with a VERY BIG “if” which is contingent on a local herd immunity vaccination plan.

Thailand will waive quarantine requirements for vaccinated foreign visitors arriving on the resort island of Phuket from July 1, the first key reopening for the tourism-reliant nation.

A panel chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha on Friday approved the proposal by Phuket’s private sector and business groups to inoculate at least 70% of the island’s residents to prepare for the reopening for vaccinated tourists, according to Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.

The government plans to test the reopening plan in Phuket before expanding to other key tourist hotspots including Koh Samui to help restart the tourism industry battered by a year without its millions of tourists, who contributed to one-fifth of the economy before the pandemic. …

An early reopening could potentially add more than 30 billion baht ($963 million) to the economy, but its success hinges on the international vaccine passport agreements and negotiations with other countries to allow free travel, Bhummikitti said. …

The article either omits or at least fails to mention some key aspects to this roadmap.

Several things are still too outlandish to believe that this would work in Thailand, let alone within the timeline provided.

There is a bit more information in the Bangkok Post from today:

… Local entrepreneurs and communities have agreed the island province could reopen to foreign tourists, Mr Supattanapong, who is also the energy minister, said.

He said these entrepreneurs and communities are confident Phuket’s tourism infrastructure is still able to accommodate “quality visitors.”

“Phuket has been recognised by foreign tourists,” Mr Supattanapong said. “But local businesses and people have suffered during the second wave the Covid-19 pandemic. …

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), previously said the reopening plan will depend depend largely on vaccine allocation to the Andaman Sea island.

He said herd immunity must be achieved by inoculating 70% of the population before foreign visitors are allowed in by the reopening date.

The plan is said to include a vaccination proposal, complete with the number of doses needed and an inoculation timeline suitable for a safe reopening of the tourist island.

Mr Yuthasak said communities are expected to support this plan more so than last year’s Phuket model as the current one is more elaborate and able to guarantee health safety measures.

According to the sandbox proposal, at least 466,587 residents living on Phuket need to receive two doses each. The proposal aims to secure 933,174 doses.

To reach the herd immunity goal within a specific time frame, the first round of inoculations should start on April 15, while the second should be rolled out from May 15.

Under the plan, tourists who want to join the proposed quarantine-free programme are required to show a vaccine certificate, vaccine passport or International Air Transport Association (IATA) travel pass.

However, foreign tourists are still required to take a PCR test at the airport and activate the ThailandPlus tracing app while in Phuket, according to the plan. …

100,000 doses can be administered to people in Phuket within one month, the number of jabs is expected to be increased during additional rounds of vaccination to achieve the 70% immunity goal in the province.

The government plans to distribute 800,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine, which will arrive in 22 provinces in the kingdom in April.

This article mentions that “local entrepreneurs and [Phuket] communities have agreed” to run this model. Living here in Thailand almost full time for close to a decade I don’t believe a word of this. Yes, some influential business people and owners will certainly have pushed for and agreed to this. The general population… not so much.

The other question mark is basing this proposal on 466,587 Phuket residents. Most people who are working in Phuket but come from other parts of the country are still registered in their home province. There are a lot more people on Phuket Island than this number that’s being used so the whole plan is skewed from the start.

And then there is the situation regarding the Chinese vaccine from manufacturer Sinovac. People don’t trust this product period. It has a very bad reputation when you talk to Thai people and nobody with some education and opinion will take it. The government might be able to get away with administering this product to indigent people in the countryside but certainly not to educated people working in the hospitality industry especially in Phuket, a rather affluent part of the country. Thai people are very health conscious and the idea that many of them would agree to take the Chinese Sinovac vaccine without scrutiny is fantasy.

There are already debates about this in local media and social media that say locals want to have a choice of which vaccine product they are able to get with the Chinese vaccine being dismissed by most, justified or not.

Also, Phuket is very popular with travelers from the mainland as well. What is the solution for those mixing with locals and the recently arrived tourists? What is keeping tourists from suddenly leaving Phuket and hopping over to Bangkok and Pattaya? The tracer app is easily disabled.

On a positive note, Thailand has approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine yesterday so the only question is when it will be available in the Kingdom.

… Thai private firms and hospitals keen to administer the locally approved vaccines can register with the Department of Disease Control, Mr Paisarn said on Thursday, adding that the government hasn’t ordered any shots from Johnson & Johnson.

The government has so far approved plans to purchase a total of 63 million and is in talks to procure an additional 5 million doses from Sinovac, according to officials. It aims to inoculate at least 50% of the nation’s population before the end of 2021. …

Let’s see when the local hospitals such as BNH and Bangkok Hospital can offer the J&J vaccine. I have a local health insurance from Aetna Thailand and they have previously offered to pay for flu vaccines on an annual basis (never took them up on the offer).

Right now there is very little in terms of vaccine exports from the manufacturing countries. The U.S. administration is having a firm grip on their own, refusing exports and Europe is a disaster as far as the vaccine effort is concerned. Highly unlikely they will export a lot of it before their own population there has been fully vaccinated. The U.S. could be done by the summer and then make more product available for export.

Conclusion

The governments plan to open Phuket to visitors without quarantine on July 1st relies on a lot of uncertain factors, the most difficult one being that they want to vaccinate 70% of Phuket’s official residents by that time. This timeline is extremely unlikely even if the government is able to obtain vaccine product that locals would accept in large numbers.

Nothing is certain when it comes to this plan so I’d urge anyone to be careful and hold off booking flights or jumping in the air. If there is a resurgence of the virus or lack of vaccine product then this July 1 deadline will come and go like the other ones. The government has decided that the Songkran festival will take place in two weeks in spite of earlier cancellation plans. Locals are bracing to see what impact it will have on infection numbers. Fingers crossed!

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