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First tourists arrive in Phuket under Sandbox scheme

First tourists arrive in Phuket under Sandbox scheme

PHUKET: Twenty-three tourists arrived at Phuket airport on Thursday morning (July 1) as the island reopened to vaccinated foreign tourists under the quarantine-free scheme.

By Bangkok Post

Friday 2 July 2021, 09:24AM

An airport official holds a ’Sandbox’ sign as she leads passengers to the arrivals lounge at Phuket airport. Photo: Government House / Bangkok Post

An airport official holds a ’Sandbox’ sign as she leads passengers to the arrivals lounge at Phuket airport. Photo: Government House / Bangkok Post

Tourism makes up almost a fifth of the Thai economy, and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to its worst performance since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, reports the Bangkok Post, citing a report by AFP.

The country is pinning high hopes for a much-needed revival on the so-called “Phuket Sandbox”, a model that allows vaccinated travellers to visit without quarantine, the report explained.

On Thursday, 347 passengers on flights from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Singapore landed on the island, where sandy beaches have been relatively deserted since the virus hit, the report added.

The EY430 flight on the Abu Dhabi-Phuket-Suvarnabhumi route arrived at 10:20am with 44 passengers. Twenty-three disembarked in Phuket while the rest went on to Suvarnabhumi. 

The first group of travellers then underwent screening procedures, which included fever and vaccination checks. All were required to download Thailand Plus and Mor Chana apps.

They later went through immigration and customs procedures before taking swab samples for RT-PCR testing. 

They were subsequently taken to their hotels where they would wait 24 hours for the test results. If the results are negative, they would be able to go to other places on the island. If they are positive, they would be immediately taken to hospitals.

Among them was Omar Ricalraeesi, 37, from the UAE who said he had previously been to the island 15 times and will spend eight days relaxing.

“After two years of not travelling, I’ve chosen the Phuket Sandbox to change my mood,” he told AFP.

Another British tourist said he would stay for a month and was looking forward to a family reunion.

“My children live here so I’m going to see my kids,” he told AFP.

The other three flights to Phuket on Thursday were from Qatar with 136 passengers landing at 12:43pm, from Israel with 137 passengers at 1:52pm and from Singapore with 51 passengers at 4:14pm. All of them would stay in Phuket.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, together with Cabinet ministers and senior health officials, arrived in Phuket at 9:45am to meet officials and health volunteers there but he did not meet the tourists.

“I’m very glad to meet you today. It’s a day we’ve been waiting for. As today is the starting day, everybody should support it. Everything depends on everyone. Many thanks for all officials for their hard work and sacrifice. Thank you all, doctors, nurses and health volunteers. You get what you do,” Gen Prayut told the officials waiting. 

Gen Prayut then inspected the screening station at the airport before going to Royal Phuket City Hotel in Phuket Town to chair a follow-up meeting on the Phuket Sandbox scheme.

He later greeted the 51 tourists on the last flight to arrive, from Singapore.

The launch of the quarantine-free scheme comes as Thailand grapples with its worst-ever COVID-19 wave and the worrying detection of the Alpha and Delta coronavirus variants.

Nationwide, the current case tally is at 264,834.

But Phuket remains relatively unscathed as Thai authorities have rolled out a mass vaccination campaign in preparation for the quarantine-free arrivals.

A command centre will track foreign visitors’ movements via a mobile app, which tourists are required to install on arrival, and also monitor for potential outbreaks.

Despite the fanfare, tourism operators are lukewarm on the resuscitation of the island’s economy, which has seen nearly 90% of hotels shutter.

“I think the restrictions make people travel less,” said Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern Chapter, who also runs a resort on the island.

Besides being fully vaccinated, tourists must remain in Phuket for a fortnight if they wish to travel to the rest of Thailand, and take three coronavirus tests during this period, a substantial expenditure for a family.

Mr Kongsak added that authorities had downgraded its Sandbox entry forecast of 129,000 visitors in the third quarter to 100,000.

Delays in government approval for the scheme have caused headaches for scores of prospective travellers, who flocked online to air their grievances.

“It is disappointing the communication has been so poor and new requirements without any detail are being created after the fact,” an American traveller told AFP.

She added she had spent hours calling consulates across the United States to get her paperwork processed, to no avail.

But even a trickle of visitors will be a lifeline for desperate vendors such as Thewan Phromyang, who rents out deck chairs at Phuket’s Patong Beach.

“I barely have any income. We can only feed ourselves,” the 49-year-old told AFP.

Before the pandemic, Thailand had expected 40 million visitors to arrive in 2020, a far cry from the 6.7mn who made it through strict border restrictions.

Another regional tourist hotspot, Bali, had been eyeing a July reopening but Indonesian authorities appeared to have backed down as virus cases surged to record levels.

While the Indonesian government has not announced an official cancellation, comments this week from the tourism minister suggested that any bid to welcome back tourists is likely to be delayed until infections are curbed.

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maverick | 03 July 2021 - 12:54:02

These restrictions are temporary - with most of Phuket vaccinated by end of July expect further relaxation in preparation for October - the challenge will be rest of the country 

johannesweber | 03 July 2021 - 02:22:22

Real estate is going to collapse in Phuket, they will be selling the villas for 10 cents on the dollar if they can sell at all.

johannesweber | 03 July 2021 - 02:21:03

 They are going to ruin the tourism industry in Thailand for many years to come.Europeans will not travel for many years to come with these restrictions in place. Real Estate prices in Phuket are going to free fall down wards 

Christy Sweet | 02 July 2021 - 19:46:03

Wasn't there an outbreak  recently at Govt House in Bangkok? Yet there's Prayut flouting the rules and entering and leaving Phuket the same day. No wonder the people have no respect for the law. 

Kurt | 02 July 2021 - 10:57:37

Is it not strange that pm Prayut and a plane load Officials coming from very Covid troubled Bangkok, were medical professionals talking about a crisis, flying to Phuket, roam around on the island 1 day and return to their Covid city BKK? 

Kurt | 02 July 2021 - 10:15:46

On 1 July just 347 passengers arrived. That is just 1 plane load. And sure it were not all tourists. And how many persons were departing from Phuket with the same aircrafts? If more than 347 than the Phuket 'sandbox opening' is negative.


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