The Tourism Authority of Thailand has sent out letters to their industry partners in the country advising them that the so called “Phuket Sandbox” opening on July 1st is still on.
Despite rising numbers of Covid infections in the Kingdom the responsible entities appear to be steadfast moving towards the July 1st opening date (mind you, so was the Titanic).
I have covered the plans of Thailand’s reopening almost ad nauseam over the last 15 months simply based the past popularity of the country as a tourism destination and an origin for cheap flights with premium fares.
Since Thailand has closed the borders in late March of 2020 and implemented a strict quarantine regime there have been at least two dozen proposals on how to safely and efficiently open up the country again, all of which lead to nothing.
Contributing to the complication of this was that these discussions went on while Thailand had pretty much no Covid-19 cases at all except a few imported cases from overseas that were all caught during the quarantine period.
In early Spring of this year more definitive plans were made to get the so called Phuket Sandbox model on the way which allows vaccinated international arrivals to enter Thailand, remain in Phuket for at least 7 days after which they are “free to go” to other parts of the country.
This model is reliant on certain contingency plans such as 70% of Phuket’s official population to be vaccinated (many live in Phuket without having their home registration there). This vaccination effort is underway – mostly with the Chinese manufactured Sinovac product.
Unfortunately since late March Thailand saw a sudden explosion of Covid-19 cases in the country that were traced to multiple sources including illegal migrants crossing the border from neighboring Myanmar, a music festival in Phuket but especially a cluster of VIP “Business people” who entered the country on a private jet from Myanmar without quarantine (corruption) where they were involved in the gambling industry and later spread the virus in upscale nightclubs in Bangkok’s Thong Lor district.
Despite this the Sandbox model and Phuket reopening was set for July 1st and from what it looks like officials are determined to keep it up as long as possible rather than to lose face again and call it off.
This is a letter that circulated yesterday:
TAT would like to reaffirm the above plan is on schedule and Phuket will open to international visitors under the proposed conditions.
What are the conditions?
- Fully vaccinated with approved vaccines
- Negative Covid test upon arrival in Phuket
- Minimum 7 nights on the island after which free roaming in Thailand is permitted
- No quarantine required
It’s not mentioned if a Certificate of Entry (COE) from an embassy or consulate abroad is still required or if the regular visa waiver is sufficient.
We have roughly 5 more weeks until this model is officially supposed to start. Thai Airways has scheduled flights from several destinations to Phuket which are available for sale.
Yesterday I wrote about the risks involved when buying Thai Airways tickets as should the flights be cancelled for whatever reason the likelihood of receiving a refund are rather small. The airline currently owes Billions in refunds to hundreds of thousands of passengers whose flights were cancelled since this pandemic began.
I for one am pessimistic about the actual start and successful implementation of this plan. No matter what face they put on it at this point in time, fact is that Thailand as a whole is currently riddled with Covid infections and there are still heavy restrictions in place until at least July 31, 2021. These include restriction of alcohol sales in dining outlets, closure of spas and massage shops, no nightlife venues and closure of bars, closure of parks. Are these conditions under which people fly in from overseas to go on holiday?
People can still visit Phuket from the mainland irrespective of their vaccination status as long as they test negative for Covid prior to departure. They would then mix with the international arrivals there on the island and return to the mainland.
All negativity about the Phuket model aside, it begs the question if the strict 14 day quarantine upon arrival and pre-clearance via the embassies is still a reasonable approach for travelers (foreigners and citizens alike). Thailand now counts around 2,000 cases daily (more if you consider the outbreaks in their overpopulated prisons) and it’s more likely that you catch Covid on the streets of Bangkok rather than bringing it in after having tested negative prior to/upon arrival. Especially when travelers have already received a vaccine. This approach made very much sense when the case count was zero but this is no longer the case and you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Thailand’s officials insist that the reopening of Phuket Island on July 1, 2021 will go ahead as scheduled and have issued a signed letter to that affect. It remains to be seen what happens in the next five weeks in terms of vaccination efforts in Thailand and the overall infection rate.
There is a chance it might actually happen (merely as a face saving measure) but also a rather large chance it’ll be called off once again. Should Phuket open it would be great as people, at least those who got a vaccine certificate, could go to Phuket and roam freely for at least a week after which they are free to travel to the mainland or other islands. It would be a great workaround option for the annoying and expensive ASQ Quarantine requirement when flying into Bangkok.