Thai Government Faces Abandoning Their “Phuket Sandbox” Timeline Of Welcoming Vaccinated Tourists From July 1, 2021

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Last month panel of government officials has approved a plan that was supposed to pave the way to open Phuket island to foreign visitors without quarantine as long as they have received a vaccine.

This plan has now once again hit a roadblock as the the strong resurgence of Covid-19 requires the government to divert the few vaccine doses they have available to the mainland instead of the islands.

Initially it was said that for the “Sandbox Project” to go ahead the majority of Phuket residents (70%) would need to have been vaccinated which was already a rather unrealistic target given the very weak vaccination effort.

With infection clusters jumping up left and right on the mainland following the most recent outbreak that was largely tied to entertainment venues in Bangkok the government is now panicking and has to distribute vaccines in the city as well.

The Bangkok Post reports today that this is going to kill the Sandbox timeline which they describe as a “reset”.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry needs to reset the timeline for the Phuket sandbox because the province may not have enough vaccine doses following the new nationwide spread of the virus.

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said next week the ministry plans to meet with all related agencies to discuss the reopening plan, previously set for July 1 this year, which needs a major revamp due to the spike in new daily infections.

The key determinant is insufficient vaccines for pilot destinations, said Mr Phiphat. Prior to the third wave, Phuket already secured more than 100,000 doses and is poised to get additional doses of around 930,000 for 70% of the population to achieve herd immunity by June.

But the spike in Covid-19 cases in many places has interrupted that plan, as a limited number of vaccines must also be distributed to other provinces, making it difficult to allocate a large lot to just one province. …

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.

So far despite many TAT proposals none of them had panned out, in part 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. Once they were allowed to reopen in early March the government said to keep it civil and no dancing allowed. From what I’ve seen it wasn’t civil, not even close. In typical Thai fashion no owner cared about the rules, especially the clubs in Thonglor and Ekkamai where the new clusters kicked off including the one with the Japanese Ambassador.

The issue is that the TAT under the Ministry of Tourism and Sports is churning these plans out no matter how realistic or ridiculous they sound. It gives people a little spark of hope just to be disappointed again. This happened more than two dozen times will all sorts of plans. I can see someone who relies on this industry to feed himself and his family to lose all hope. Maybe they (TAT/government) should consider this effect on people instead of trying to be seen as if they’re doing “something”.

When I first wrote about this on March 26th I already had my doubts and this most recent development gives a convenient excuse for the government to scrap or as the article puts it “reset” their ambitious plan.

Currently health authorities in Thailand have approved three different vaccines:

  • AstraZeneca
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Sinovac (only 50% effective against the new strains)

The vast majority of immunizations given to people has been Sinovac which due to it’s shortcomings isn’t ideal. I know at least three people who went to an appointment in the hopes they get at least the AZ product but all of them walked away when they were offered Sinovac.

Despite being approved by the Thai FDA I’ve contacted the two hospitals that I’m a registered patient at (BNH & Bangkok Hospital) and they said no J&J vaccine is available there yet.

According to another article the government currently tries to pour in additional resources in an effort to obtain enough AstraZeneca and start using it for the most part. Obviously you can’t just go to the supermarket and pick it from the shelf. These products are in high demand and Thailand was very late to order any.

… Thailand has relied on using 71 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and two million doses of CoronaVac developed by China-based Sinovac Biotech to inoculate about 35 million people or 50% of the population. The ministry will start the Covid-19 jab rollout this June and aims to have 50% of the population immunised by the end of this year. …

So far very few of the AZ doses have been delivered to the Kingdom and the actual plan is to produce it domestically in license by June.

What this means for the timeline to open the country to tourists again to the point of where it actually attracts sufficient numbers that translate into significant revenue… who knows. It will take months to get the current situation under control and until then traveling to Thailand isn’t even an attractive option. Add to that that the rainy season begins in June.

Conclusion

If you’ve been banking on being able to visit Thailand without quarantine this summer or even at all then this is undoubtedly going to rain on your parade. If you have received a vaccine and want to utilize this “key” then maybe some other destinations such as Greece, Iceland or a cruise in the Caribbean might be a better choice. U.S. Airlines have also increased capacity to Alaska which makes for a great trip.

As far as travel to Thailand is concerned I wouldn’t expect much this year. These constant proposals that end up falling apart have made people apathetic to new models. Especially those reliant on the tourism industry have very little hope and positivity left. I arrived in Koh Samui today, it’s pretty much a sad ghost town around previously upbeat areas. It’ll take much more than just a few tourists dripping in to bring this back to life.

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