The cabinet authorised the Phuket sandbox tourism strategy scheme on Tuesday, which will reopen the island on July 1 and a trio of Gulf of Thailand locations — Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao — on July 15, enabling fully vaccinated tourists from some countries to visit.

Local entrepreneurs lobbied for the reopening, according to government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri, after the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) accepted in principle to the initiative on June 18.

Mr Anucha insisted that the CCSA-mandated disease control procedures and strict monitoring will be maintained. If there are more than 90 infections recorded every week in tourism zones, the reopening scheme will be terminated.

He said that international tourists who have been vaccinated are exempt from the state’s quarantine regulations. They must, however, stay in Phuket for 14 days before moving on to other areas in Thailand. They must fly back on a direct flight if they remain in Phuket for less than 14 days.

Travelers visiting Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao are required to use only a “sealed” route scheme. They must stay in approved hotels for the first three days. Between days 4 and 7, they can travel over the sealed pathways, then between days 8 and 15, they can travel to the other two islands.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry, according to Mr Anucha, is in charge of reopening the other tourism zones. Before presenting ideas to the CCSA, the ministry recommended local agencies and businesses to develop their own reopening plans.

Mr Anucha said the premier was aware of the concerns raised by several organisations about the government’s declaration to reopen the country by mid-October. He cited the premier’s statement that the government must strike a balance between the economy, public health, and infection control.

Chinese tourists, who accounted for about a quarter of Thailand’s 40 million visitors in 2019, are unlikely to return to Phuket in large numbers for several months. Hoteliers fear that lucrative Chinese tour groups may not return until next year due to severe quarantine rules for tourists returning to Beijing.

“There’s a big demand coming out of China and Phuket is still one of their top destinations,” said Bhummikitti of Phuket Tourism Association.  “But with the Chinese government restrictions on travelling, I think we still have to wait for a while.”


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