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Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp”

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PHOTO: The monsoon waves are starting to hit Phuket's west coast

Thailand’s Sports and Tourism minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn is acknowledging that Phuket’s ‘Sandbox’ model for a no-quarantine re-opening in July will need “a major revamp”. As the Songkran travel bubble bursts and the monsoon season waves start to roll onto the island’s west coast beaches, Phuket’s scheduled July re-boot suddenly seems a long way off.

Minister Phiphat says he plans to meet with “all related agencies” this week. Apart from the latest national re-surge in new infections, Phuket has been unable to get its hands on sufficient vaccines to meed its deadline of 70% of the island vaccinated by July 1. Thailand’s limited supplies of the vaccine – including some 930,000 doses designated for Phuket – are being rerouted to other provinces as the government prioritises the limited supply.

“We are all concerned about the reopening timeline,” he was quoted in Bangkok Post.

But the Minister did acknowledge that, if the 70% vaccination level couldn’t be met, they may consider opening some areas of the island. Exactly how that would work hasn’t been revealed at this stage.

The minister also brought up the ongoing travel bubble negotiations and says he hadn’t heard back from some of the candidates with their reaction to the current outbreak.

Flights in and out of Phuket Airport’s international terminal have been extremely patchy and the flights from feeder tourist markets will need to co-operate with any re-opening plans.

Phuket, whilst suffering a rise in new infections, hasn’t been hit as hard as some of the other popular holiday provinces, like Chiang Mai, Chon Buri (Pattaya) and Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin).

This year’s Songkran was going to be a major stepping stone for the island’s recovery and many hotels, some who had opened especially to cater for Songkran holiday traffic, noted a lot of cancellations just prior to the break.

But some island hotels have still reported high occupancy rates over the past week. One Manager, who did not want his name published, said that their hotel was almost full with Thai patrons, most who had pre-paid for their flights and accommodation and decided to go ahead anyway.

Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, says that they are opposed to any lockdown as it would cripple the island, with its tourist businesses already suffering greatly. He stated that 15% of people cancelled their Songkran bookings, while 30% had postponed their trips.

The Sports and Tourism Ministers is still in quarantine after having close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 2 weeks ago.

 

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2011. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for 42 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program (public radio Australia), presented over 11,000 radio news bulletins, 3,950 in Thailand alone, hosted 1050 daily TV news programs and produced 2,100 videos, TV commercials and documentaries. He also reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and other major stories in Thailand.

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