Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will visit Phuket next Friday to ensure the resort island’s reopening on 1st July goes smoothly.
The Phuket plan will kick-start the government’s hopes to reopen the whole country in October.
From 1st July, Phuket will waive quarantine requirements for foreign tourists who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 under the “Phuket Tourism Sandbox” model, which is being touted as a model for the reopening of the tourism industry.
However, as a precaution, tourists will have to remain on the island for 14 days before they are allowed to travel to other destinations in the country.
Sources said the PM will inspect preparations for the screening of foreign tourists at Phuket International Airport, before moving on to Thalang district, where he will be briefed on details of the Phuket Tourism Sandbox and meet business operators to discuss measures to revive the province’s economy.
Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow said the Phuket Sandbox model is the first step towards the full reopening of the country.
Mr Punmeechaow said details of the Phuket reopening will be presented to the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) today and local authorities and businesses in Phuket will then be able to go ahead with the plan.
“When Phuket reopens, we will then consider other provinces that are ready,” the minister said.
“It is the prime minister’s intention to see the country reopen in 120 days, beginning in Phuket from 1st July. All those involved must work together,” he said.
He also said the Phuket reopening is an experiment and there is still room for improvement, adding the Phuket Sandbox is a drill that will prepare all parties for the tourism high season later this year.
Mr Punmeechaow said that when it reopens, Phuket will serve as a meeting place for Thai and foreign investors to discuss their businesses, apart from being a tourist attraction.
Phumkit Raktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said 13 tourism associations in the province will hand a letter to the prime minister to ask him to lift a ban on vaccinated Thais in foreign countries from visiting Phuket.
Local businesses did not see any reason to prevent these Thais from visiting the island, Mr Raktaengam said.
He said the matter was discussed at a meeting of the subcommittee of the CCSA on Wednesday.
During the meeting, some agencies expressed concern that if Thai returnees were allowed to visit Phuket using their passports, they could use their ID cards to sneak out of the province before completing the 14-day stay requirement, Mr Raktaengam said.
However, local businesses believed the government could put in place measures to control and monitor these Thai returnees, he said.
“There is no point in reopening Phuket if Thais returnees from foreign countries cannot visit”.
“Thais should also be given the right under the Phuket Sandbox model,” Mr Raktaengam said.
This is a major issue and the local private sector will push for the ban to be revoked before details of the Phuket Tourism Sandbox are approved at the CCSA’s meeting today, he said.
Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control (DDC), said the Phuket Sandbox is a model for social and economic recovery in line with criteria set by an academic committee under the Public Health Ministry.
However, the Sandbox plan may have to be cancelled if the number of infections in the province exceeds 13 cases per day, Dr Karnkawinpong said.
Under the Sandbox model, foreign arrivals must come from countries where the COVID-19 situation is under control or the number of infections is moderate/low.
They should also have had both vaccine doses at least 14 days before travelling to Thailand and the vaccine they received must be authorised by the World Health Organization.
They should also have a COVID-free certificate issued within 72 hours of arriving in the country.