The government is expected to give the green light today to allow tourists who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to visit the island of Phuket without having to undergo the mandated quarantine period, starting in July.
Supattanapong Punmeechaow, deputy prime minister, said the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA), will today consider a reopening plan approved by business operators on the island.
The meeting will be chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the plan could serve as a model for the reopening process for other provinces that rely on tourism.
Local entrepreneurs and communities have agreed the island province could reopen to foreign tourists, Mr Punmeechaow, who is also the energy minister, said.
He said these entrepreneurs and communities are confident Phuket’s tourism infrastructure is still able to accommodate “quality visitors.”
“Phuket has been recognised by foreign tourists,” Mr Punmeechaow said. “But local businesses and people have suffered during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They have joined forces and offered to be a reopening model for major tourist provinces,” he added. “There are flights to the province and hotels to attract quality tourists.
“They believe if the government supports the plan, the province should reopen before October,” the deputy prime minister said.
Previously, provincial authorities and the local private sector came up with a reopening plan, known as the Phuket Tourism Sandbox, to allow inoculated foreign tourists to visit the province from 1st July, brought forward from the original planned 1st October.
Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), previously said the reopening plan will depend largely on vaccine allocation to the Andaman Sea island.
He said herd immunity must be achieved by inoculating 70% of the population before foreign visitors are allowed in by the reopening date.
The plan is said to include a vaccination proposal, complete with the number of doses needed and an inoculation timeline suitable for a safe reopening of the tourist island.
Mr Supasorn said communities are expected to support this plan more so than last year’s Phuket model as the current one is more elaborate and able to guarantee health safety measures.
According to the sandbox proposal, at least 466,587 residents living on the island of Phuket need to receive two doses each. The proposal aims to secure 933,174 doses.
To reach the herd immunity goal within a specific time frame, the first round of inoculations should start on 15th April, while the second should be rolled out from 15th May.
Under the plan, tourists who want to join the proposed quarantine-free programme are required to show a vaccine certificate, vaccine passport or International Air Transport Association (IATA) travel pass.
However, foreign tourists are still required to take a PCR test at the airport and activate the ThailandPlus tracing app while in Phuket, according to the plan.
Kusak Kukiatkul, Phuket’s public health chief, on Thursday said the island will receive its second batch of 100,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses on Monday to prepare for the planned reopening.
Dr Kukiatkul said tourism is the main source of income for Phuket.
Priority groups to receive the jabs first will include public health officials in close contact with COVID-19 patients, employees in the local service industry, such as hotel, airport and dock workers, and people with underlying health problems.
The second batch of vaccines will arrive on Monday and the vaccination plan will start on Thursday, Dr Kukiatkul said, adding that Phuket residents have been urged to register for vaccination at the provincial public health office.
“Don’t worry because the outcome of the first round of vaccinations was very satisfactory, with little side effects reported,” he said. “It is similar to general vaccinations.”
He added that if the 100,000 doses can be administered to people in Phuket within one month, the number of jabs is expected to be increased during additional rounds of vaccination to achieve the 70% immunity goal in the province.
The government plans to distribute 800,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine, which will arrive in 22 provinces in the kingdom in April.
The first group includes Samut Sakhon, Bangkok, Tak, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan and Nonthaburi, while the second and third include tourist and border provinces, such as Phuket and Surat Thani and Songkhla, Sa Kaeo, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mukdahan, Narathiwat and Ranong.