SNAPU: Knowns, unknowns and WTFs to Phuket’s ‘reopening’

Photo: Arut Thongsombut
Photo: Arut Thongsombut

Residents on Phuket are rolling up their sleeves to revive their devastated economy as a flashy social media campaign counts down to the resort island’s official “reopening.”

The problem Friday, 27 days out, remained the mixed and sometimes contradictory messages that make planning a trip impractical. Hope that an endeavor of such importance and magnitude – a linchpin to the kingdom’s economic recovery – would inspire thoughtful execution has been dashed as competing agencies blast out contradictory announcements and significant questions go unanswered.

Just Wednesday, the tourism ministry wowed observers with a critical set of previously unmentioned restrictions: Travel must be booked through tour operators, and onward travel from the island would be limited to only five destinations, at least through September. Woe to anyone who’s already paid for a ticket.

Its infographic, dated Monday, also noted that vaccinated travelers would be welcome “everywhere” in Thailand as soon as … 2022.

That would seem to suggest that those pinning their return on a week in Phuket rather than two weeks in costly quarantine are out of luck until then. So far, the discussion has solely focused on foreign tourists with no mention of how the rules might apply to resident aliens or Thai travelers. 

So, with that all in mind, here’s what’s been said so far:

Update June 5: Farang royalty Richard Barrow attended a “private briefing” on Friday where he put some of the unanswered questions to the tourism authority’s top dog. Most crucially: Will Thais and foreign residents be able to take advantage of it? “Anyone can take advantage of Phuket Sandbox as long as they are fully vaccinated and they fly in from a country on the list,” Barrow says he was told.

  • The so-called Phuket Sandbox will kick off July 1. At present inoculation rates, the island is unlikely to reach its goal of 70% vaccination, what’s generally considered “herd immunity by then.” Just over 50% of the population is said to have gotten their first of two shots.
  • Only arrival by air will be eligible. Feel free to set sail in your superyacht, but you’ll still pay for 14 days of quarantine confinement. (TAT)
  • Children under 5 are exempted from requirements (TAT)
  • No quarantine is required if travelers meet one of three conditions:
    • Show proof of a negative COVID-19 test 
    • Show proof they recovered from the disease fewer than 90 days prior.
    • Show proof of vaccination at least 14 days prior

Which vaccines will be considered valid? Unknown but they have said that a single dose of AstraZeneca will be valid. Thailand’s FDA has approved Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Jannsen, which is a single-dose shot made by Johnson & Johnson. It has not been said whether it would reciprocate and allow any others, such as the Pfizer-made vaccine.

  • Disputed: The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) says even those with proof of vaccination must also show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the previous seven days.
  • Foreign travelers must have purchased at least THB100,000 worth of health insurance. It’s been unmentioned whether that also applies to Thai citizens or foreign nationals with Thai residency.
  • Accommodations must be booked from a list of government-approved hotels. Already have a home on the island?
  • Accommodations must be booked from a list of government-approved hotels.
  • Those previously infected with COVID-19 must be able to recover within 90 days prior to arrival. (CAAT)
  • People who failed to meet the requirements will not be provided with a 14-day quarantine, either at home or hotel, after they arrived in Phuket. (CAAT)
  • After seven days, visitors may leave the island and travel elsewhere in Thailand. 
  • Disputed: This is where the tourism ministry weighed in this week to say that onward travel would be limited only to Krabi, Phang-nga (only Khao Lak), Surat Thani (only Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan), Pattaya and Chiang Mai.
  • All travelers must register their plans via a website that uses a spelling unfamiliar to anyone in the world: GoPhuget.com. They must also install the Mor Chana app (Android/iOS) and enable location sharing for the entire duration of their stay in Phuket. (CAAT)
  • On Oct. 1, the program will be extended to 10 more provinces which will, in theory, have also reached the 70% vaccination target. 
  • Failure to comply with public health measures or the national state of emergency risks fines from THB20,000 (US$640) to THB100,000 (US$3,200) and up to two years in prison. (TAT)

Editor’s Note: We have updated this story to better describe the content of the tourism ministry infographic.

Related

Phuket says it’s back on track to reopen quarantine-free in 6 weeks

No-quarantine entry to Thailand via Phuket starts in July for the vaccinated

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