The 13 tourists were among the 14 people who arrived on Emirates flight EK378 which landed in Phuket on Tuesday (July 6). On the same flight was one man from the United Arab Emirates who tested positive for COVID-19 after landing at Phuket International Airport.
As is now standard procedure under the Phuket Sandbox model, once the man tested positive for COVID-19, he was taken into care at a local quarantine venue, while all people deemed to be high-risk contacts were taken to ALQ venues.
According to the terms of entering Thailand under the Phuket Sandbox policy, tourists are responsible for all costs related to any COVID measures and must have health insurance of no less than US100,000 to cover any costs related to COVID infection.
What is flying in the face of the policy to shunt Sandbox tourists who have tested negative for the virus into an ALQ costing in excess of B3,700 a night by declaring them as high-risk contacts is that right now there is nothing stopping a person from driving from the “dark red” zone of Bangkok – recognised by Thai officials themselves as the most contagious place in the country – to Phuket and being allowed onto the island.
The Bangkokian only needs to present an RT-PCR test results certificate proving they were not infected sometime up to seven days earlier and they will be allowed into Phuket. Once on the island, they are allowed to go anywhere they like.
As of today, Thai officials have no way to explain why domestic arrivals who have tested negative for the virus sometime in the preceding seven days may roam the island freely while tourists who have tested negative for COVID-19 within the past 24 hours must remain in quarantine for two weeks.
We’re looking forward to any explanation of why this is so.
Worse, right now Thai officials are placing people in quarantine because they tested negative for the virus, and placing people in quaratnine because they tested positive for the virus.
The Royal Thai Government has to decide whether it trusts its own tests it forces people to take. Either ruling officials trust RT-PCR tests or they don’t. They have to pick one. The current duality smacks of a government making up rules as it goes along out of nothing more than fear.
To argue that they are waiting for the incubation period is to admit that the test is pointless.
While officials are pondering their next move they can also ponder just how many prospective Sandbox tourists are now figuring out how to delay their planned holiday in Phuket because of this.
As of Thursday, 12 of the 13 Sandbox tourists stuck in quarantine had asked to fly home to the UAE. "All of them agreed to return home as the provincial health authority allowed them to depart since last night. We’re considering rewarding them with special privileges if they plan to revisit Thailand in the future," said Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told the Bangkok Post yesterday.
Mr Yuthasak said travellers in the sandbox scheme already acknowledge the possibility of a 14-day quarantine if they are determined to be a high-risk group, according to the certificate of entry application process.
Mr Yuthasak also said all travellers choosing to return “should” receive full refunds from hotels, including costs for COVID-19 tests. As head of the agency that invited the world to come to Phuket under the Sandbox scheme. Mr Yuthasak “should” be able to do better than that.
What “should” be applied is a test-and-release policy, whereby any Sandbox tourists who test negative for COVID-19 after arriving in Phuket should be allowed to continue their holiday as planned, just like anyone else in the country.