Chiang Mai and Phuket, two of the country’s most popular destinations, are preparing to reopen to tourists on 1st November while keeping a close eye on the rate of COVID-19 infections.
The northern province announced it was ready to reopen as it races to expand vaccination coverage despite the emergence of a new cluster at a large market.
It is hoping to kickstart the local tourism industry on 1st November, the date set by the government for when fully vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries can enter the kingdom without needing to quarantine.
With more restrictions being lifted, domestic travel is also expected to get a boost.
Provincial governor Prajon Pratsakul said the province was speeding up vaccinations to meet the goal of immunising at least 70% of the population by 1st November. Currently, more than 60% have been vaccinated, he said, adding the outlook is encouraging as vaccine stockpiles are building.
Areas with no new infections will be designated as blue zones. These are set to expand as the vaccination rate accelerates.
According to the governor, the whole province will reopen on 1st November, not just the four districts of Muang, Mae Rim, Mae Taeng and Doi Tao that were named earlier to join the sandbox programme.
In the meantime, areas with high rates of infection, or red zones, will be off-limits to visitors, Mr Pratsakul said.
The reopening plan comes shortly after 478 people fell sick. Their infections were traced to Talad Muang Mai, a major market for distributing fresh produce.
The latest infection cluster prompted the province’s communicable disease committee to order the market in tambon Chang Moy of Muang district to be closed from 9th-22nd October for cleaning and quarantine.
Customers and anyone else closely connected to the market have been placed in quarantine.
Meanwhile, more Thai and foreign visitors are expected to arrive in Phuket during the peak season from next month until early next year, according to governor Narong Woonciew.
However, one pressing challenge is expanding the province’s capacity to test visitors for COVID-19. Currently, up to 500 people can be tested a day.
“If 5,000 come, we must have the technology to contact-trace them,” Mr Woonciew said. The province was treading carefully, he added.