Present to receive the formal thanks at the new Phuket Provincial Hall yesterday (Dec 22) was Phuket Vice Governor Pichet Pananpong.
Phuket remains the only province where tourists may enter the country under the Sandbox scheme following the immediate suspension of the Test & Go entry scheme on Tuesday.
The order to suspend Test & Go arrivals came 24 hours after Thailand marked its first local transmission, in Bangkok, of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which has brought on severe prevention measures and travel bans across Europe.
“On behalf of the private sector of Phuket, I would like to thank the Prime Minister and all relevant Cabinet members who have decided to trust Phuket to accept tourists in the form of the Phuket Sandbox,” Mr Bhummikitti said.
“There are many related official agencies that support Phuket Province, especially in Phuket led by the Governor of Phuket and all Deputy Governors of Phuket, and with special thanks to Airports of Thailand and especially the Director of Phuket Airport for supporting the mission that we have gained confidence in this time,” he added.
TEST & GO SUSPENDED
The central government has confirmed that 110,000 visitors who had already been approved entry to Thailand, and issued a QR code via the Thailand Pass application system, before the announcement on Tuesday will be allowed to enter Thailand on the approved date.
However, they will now be required to undergo a second RT-PCR test on Day 5 of their stay ‒ in addition to their first RT-PCR test on landing ‒ to confirm they are not infected. The government has announced that the state will pay the costs of the second test.
These visitors must stay in their hotel rooms until the results of their first test confirm they are not infected. Once the first test results confirm they are not infected, they may leave their hotel rooms. They must also return to their hotel each night until they have passed their second test.
A further 90,000 visitors who had applied but had not yet been approved entry as of Tuesday will be allowed to enter the country, Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said on Tuesday.
The decision to suspend the Test & Go entry scheme will be reviewed on Jan 4.
PHUKET SANDBOX STILL OPEN
In addition to suspending all Test & Go entry to the country, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Tuesday also suspended all Sandbox entry schemes ‒ except the Phuket Sandbox model.
Under the Phuket Sandbox scheme visitors may land on the island and will be tested for COVID-19 on landing. If they test negative, they are free to go anywhere on the island. They will receive a second RT-PCR test on Day 5-6.
They must stay on the island for seven days, after which ‒ if they test negative for the virus ‒ visitors may travel freely within the country, pending local restrictions in each province. During the seven days, Phuket Sandbox arrivals must stay at their designated pre-booked hotel. They are not allowed to stay overnight in any other places.
Any arrivals who test positive for COVID-1 will be referred to a healthcare facility for appropriate medical treatment, for which the expenses must be covered by the required insurance, or national healthcare coverage for Thais and eligible foreign expatriates, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) notes in its description of the Sandbox scheme.
Mr Bhummikitti urged people to remain calm, and to be patient in waiting for the CCSA to review the situation on Jan 4.
To date, Phuket has not marked a local transmission of the Omicron variant, and Vachira Phuket Hospital Director Weerasak Lorthongkham yesterday confirmed that all recent local cases of infection have resulted in mild symptoms only.
“We must maintain confidence [in handling the situation], for citizens and tourists, no matter which variant of COVID-19. Not just Omicron, there may be others. I believe that with the cooperation of all of us we will be able to coexist with the COVID-19 pandemic and overcome this crisis,” he said.
“During these two weeks Phuket will do our best to reassure the country and tourists around the world that Thailand will continue [to remain open]... and most importantly, thanks to the government, especially the departments of the Ministry of Public Health, including Vachira Phuket Hospital and the Phuket Provincial Public Health Office, which together are an important force that will allow Phuket to move forward,” he said.
Mr Bhummikitti noted that the policy shift will no doubt affect tourist arrivals, but said it was too early to tell how much of an effect it will have.
“The suspension of the Test & Go scheme will have an inevitable impact. But it is necessary to keep the economy going,” Mr Bhummikitti told the Bangkok Post.
Phuket mainly has tourists from Russia and Kazakhstan at present and these countries can still enter via the Phuket Sandbox despite the change in other entry systems, he said.