The Thailand government is gambling that travelers will be willing to put up with coronavirus-related regulations for the opportunity for a beach holiday after being cooped up in their home countries for months
In a bid to breathe a new life into the Thailand tourism industry devastated by pandemic, the country announced a risky but ambitious plan allowing foreigners to visit the popular resort island of Phuket.
The programme, which was launched today, currently allows only fully vaccinated foreigners from lower-risk countries. According to AP, the first one such flight arrived in Phuket today from Abu Dhabi.
What’s the Phuket Sandbox programme?
The Phuket Sandbox programme is similar to a “air bubble” allowing “fully vaccinated international visitors” from 63 countries and three territories rated by Thailand as low or medium risk for .
Requirements beyond nationality are more complicated and involve a fair amount of paperwork, in addition to being subject to changes.
The most up-to-date and detailed information will generally be available from the website of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, at www.tatnews.org, or from the nearest Thai Embassy.
Visas for stays of up to 30 days are not necessary for many nationalities. Airlines with direct flights to Phuket include Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, El Al and Singapore Airlines.
Currently, both adults as well as children are allowed under the scheme provided they follow all the rules and have an RT-PCR laboratory result indicating that is not detected, issued no more than 72 hours before departure, according to the official website.
Adult foreign visitors must also provide proof of an insurance policy that covers treatment for the virus of at least $100,000, among other things.
Once on the island, they have to follow mask and distancing regulations and take three tests at their own expense — about $300 total — and show negative results.
What does the Phuket sandbox programme offer?
- No mandatory 14-day quarantine: Under the Phuket sandbox programme, visitors will be allowed to stay in Phuket with no need to quarantine. Visitors arriving under the programme will also be free to roam anywhere in Phuket right from their arrival.
- Visitors to Phuket will be allowed to roam the entire island — the country’s largest — where they can lounge on the white beaches, jet ski and enjoy evenings eating out in restaurants, although clubs and bars remain closed. On the contrary, visitors to other parts of Thailand are subject to a strict 14-day hotel room quarantine.
- Go anwyhere in thailand after 14 nights in Phuket: “After spending 14 nights in Phuket and as long as their test result is negative, travellers are free to go anywhere in Thailand,” the official Thai Tourism website reads. Visitors, however, will be required to adhere to the local restrictions.
Are Indians allowed under the Phuket sandbox programme?
Sadly, no. Thailand has allowed residents of 63 countries to enter the country under the Phuket sandbox programme, but India is not in the list.
The ban on Indian travellers is largely due to high number of cases, and the Delta variant of the . While India has signed “air bubble” with countries like Seychelles, there is no such agreement between India and Thailand.
According to AP, only visitors from countries considered no higher than “low” or “medium” risk are permitted, and they must fly in directly to Phuket, though plans are in the works to allow carefully controlled transfers through Bangkok’s airport.
The list includes most of Europe and West Asa, the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Following the inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi, passengers were expected to arrive later Thursday from Qatar, Israel and Singapore.
Thailand tourism, however, has said that it will be increase the list soon.
Why is Thailand taking the risk?
According to AP, before the pandemic, the tourism sector made up some 20 percent of Thailand’s economy, and 95 percent of Phuket’s income.
The resort island off the southern coast saw fewer than a half million visitors in the first five months, and almost no foreigners, compared to more than 3 million during the same period last year including some 2 million foreigners.
The government is gambling that travelers will be willing to put up with -related regulations for the opportunity for a beach holiday after being cooped up in their home countries for months.
What’s the reponse been like so far?
In a nod to the importance of the “sandbox” plan, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha flew to Phuket to be on hand in person for the launch.
Last-minute hitches in some of the programme details and cautions from authorities that if cases start to rise on the island more restrictions may be needed — or it may have to be shut down entirely — meant some cancelations before it even began.
Fewer than 250 international travelers were expected on the first day compared to the initial target of 1,500.
But as the kinks are worked out and people report their first-hand experiences, authorities are hopeful for a steady increase in the numbers. From 1-15 July, there are currently 1,101 hotel bookings for a total of 13,116 room overnights.
Is it safe to visit Thailand?
The so-called “Phuket sandbox” programme comes as infections are surging in Thailand, including a significant number of cases of the Delta variant, and many have questioned if it’s too early to woo tourists back, and whether they’ll come in significant numbers in any case due to the restrictions they’ll still face.
But the number of new cases on the island itself is extremely low, in the single digits daily, and more than 70 percent of its residents are fully vaccinated.
Is there a checklist for Thailand’s Phuket sandbox programme?
A list of FAQs on the Phuket sandbox programme is available on Thailand tourism’s official website. Here are the basic requirements before departure for Phuket include:
— Must have been staying in approved home country for at least 21 days before departure.
— Must obtain a Certificate of Entry from a Thai embassy or consulate.
— Must be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before departure (travelers under 18 years old accompanied by a parent or guardian are exempted from the need to be vaccinated).
— Must have a negative RT-PCR test for within 72 hours of departure. (Also required for travelers under 18 years old)
— Must have a minimum $100,000 medical insurance policy covering treatment.
— Must have an RT-PCR test for at their own expense on the day of arrival, the sixth or seventh day of stay and the 12th or 13th day.
— Must stay for 14 days at approved “SHA+” hotels in order to travel onwards in Thailand. The booking must be confirmed before arrival. SHA+ certifies safety and health standards including having at least 70% of staff vaccinated for .
— Must install Thailand Plus and Morchana apps, to track health and location, respectively.
— Must have evidence of negative test results over the 14-day stay for onward travel to other parts of Thailand.
With inputs from AP
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