Under the Sandbox’ model, fully vaccinated tourists would be allowed to enter Phuket without observing any period of quarantine.
A critical requirement to the policy is that 70% of the island’s population must be vaccinated for COVID-19 before the national government will give its approval.
However, the ongoing spate of infections throughout the country have placed the July 1 deadline in jeopardy, with leading Phuket figures now saying that the vaccine doses initially promised to Phuket to make the July 1 deadline possible may now be allocated elsewhere to counter the rising number of infections.
Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, President of Phuket Tourist Association, said, “Even though the Phuket Tourism Sandbox model has been approved, this current outbreak is affecting the distribution of vaccine doses to Phuket. The doses of vaccine that were supposed to be sent to Phuket are being provided to other areas to control the outbreak.
“Phuket people understand the necessity, but the Phuket Tourism Sandbox [re-opening of tourism] is also important for Thailand, so today Phuket’s private sector asks the national government for approval to purchase vaccines by ourselves to be able to welcome foreign tourists as we have planned,” he said.
“We have been struggling in this crisis for a year. If the limited number of vaccine doses can really control the outbreak in other provinces in need, we are happy that the government provides the vaccine to help them.
“We just want the government to approve and facilitate us to purchase vaccines by ourselves. The vaccine will be bought by the budget from our own private sector and local administrative organisations, in order to provide to our people and carry on our strategy for the country,” he added.
Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, President of the Thailand Hotels Association Southern chapter, said tour operators were already expressing their interest to resume limited flights to Phuket, and highlighted the need for Thailand to uphold its message to the world the Phuket will re-open on July 1.
“We want to show the world our efforts and the achievement of Phuket as a pilot area for Thailand to welcome foreign tourists without quarantine. Right now, we have been contacted by foreign tour operators in many countries, and they have shown interest in sending their customers to Phuket, especially operators in Germany,” he explained.
“A big German company informed us that they plan to have two chartered flights per week to Phuket, starting Oct 10, while companies in Scandinavian countries have asked us for clarity about the documents needed and the conditions [to be met] to travel to Phuket. We have announced to the world about our plan to re-open, and we must make it happen,” Mr Kongsak said.
Joining the call for Phuket private operators and local government administrations to purchase their own vaccines to inoculate people in the own areas were Thanet Tantipiriyakij, Acting President of the Phuket Tourism Council, along with Chernporn Karnjanasaya, President of the Federation of Phuket Industries, and Thanusak Phungdet, President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Thanet pointed out that Phuket business operators had first asked for permission to buy their own vaccines in January, but pointed out that the Ministry of Public Health “had sent us a negative sign of vaccine distribution”.
Mr Thanusak pointed out that many municipalities across the island had months ago set aside the budget required to buy their own vaccines, including Phuket City Municipality and Patong Municipality.
“We have contacted the local administrative organisations that had shown their own initiative to buy vaccines for people in their areas, as well as the Thai representatives of foreign vaccine-producing companies to buy their vaccines. We have worked under pressure to deliver the promise we made to our people,” he said.
“We are sure that if the governor gives us a green light and a special path, we will be able to reopen the island as we have planned,” Mr Thansuak added.
Mr Bhummikitti said that Phuket had already made great strides to vaccinate the island’s residents to make the July 1 plan work.
“We respect and understand what the government is doing for our people’s health safety as a priority. If the vaccines really need to be provided somewhere else to control the outbreak, then the government should have done this [allowed private purchase of vaccines] when we asked for it,” he said.
“Phuket has come too far to stop or step back. The 200,000 doses that we have used to vaccinate our people must not be wasted. We need to move forward with our momentum and to accomplish our goal together.”
The plea in Phuket for private sector operators to buy their own vaccines came as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday (Apr 28) promised close collaboration with the private sector to speed up the vaccine rollout and achieve the target of inoculating 50 million people by year’s end.
It also follows the Thai Food & Drug Administration approving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as fit for use in Thailand on Mar 25.
However, reasons not made public the vaccine has yet to become publicly available.
Meanwhile, the national government continues to promote advances made in the ability of Siam Bioscience to locally produce the AstraZeneca vaccine under licence.
The entire national government mass-vaccination campaign relies on just two vaccines: the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine ‘CoronaVac’.
The national government has faced harsh criticism for its slow rollout of the mass-vaccination campaign, which has so far managed to inoculate just over 4% of the national population.