One hotelier on the island expects that only 20% of hotels are open and with incoming tourists limited to certified hotels, accommodation rates are reported to be significantly higher for tourists considering Phuket as a holiday option at this time with the ‘sandbox’ experiment. However, it is the intrusive and burdensome public health requirements including the continued closure of bars and entertainment venues that have killed the initial excitement and left tourists feeling boxed in.

There is growing scepticism about the outcome of Phuket’s reopening after it emerged on Wednesday that already fully vaccinated travellers on a two week holiday to the island will be subject to no less than five Covid-19 tests at their own expense and will have to wait in their hotel bedrooms for the results to come back from the processing laboratory.

Phuket Governor Narong Woonsiew briefed the press on Wednesday on final details of the approval given by the cabinet as the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ scheme got the green light but under a heavy weight of regulation and burdensome restrictions which has sparked scepticism among many potential foreign tourists over the last three weeks when international interest in the travel trade and goodwill towards plans to reopen one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations was initially high.

Final details were given by the Governor of Phuket on Wednesday after the cabinet, at last, approved the Phuket reopening on July 1st to vaccinated travellers.

Governor Narong Woonsiew said that he expected to see travellers arriving on the once-thriving holiday island from July 1st from both America and Europe.

However, he only mentioned international flights operated by Thai Airways from Europe which he pointed out were scheduled from London, Frankfurt, Zurich, Paris and Copenhagen.

Undoubted interest among international travellers but June has seen growing question marks raised by uncertainty and new restrictions imposed

The top official did not reference other planned flights announced in recent weeks by Qatar Airways and Emirates which had both indicated plans to fly direct to Phuket.

There had been undoubted interest among international tourists in travelling to one of Thailand’s and the world’s favourite destinations without quarantine especially among fans of the kingdom prompted by what appeared like opening, brighter skies at the beginning of June.

Phuket has herd immunity, now it will also have international flight connectivity from July 1st

Now the situation and outlook appear to be rather overcast following a tightening of conditions, the announcement that bars and entertainment venues on the island will not be reopened and even more restrictive public health requirements.

Officials in Thailand have linked bars to dangerous clusters of the disease.

A spokesman with the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) this week also explained that it was considered people who consumed alcohol find it difficult to follow health guidance further raising the risk to public health. 

Skyrocketing hotel and accommodation costs another big turnoff for those booking holidays abroad

Prospective foreign visitors have also been turned off by the limited selection of hotels open on the island and the additional requirement that all the hotels and facilities being frequented and booked by tourists must have Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus certification. 

A top hotelier in Phuket, Suksit Suvunditkul, estimates that only 20% of hotels on the island will be open after July.

Hotel boss says many hoteliers will wait and see how the first three months go before reopening again

This has meant rocketing accommodation prices which are reported to be 250 to 400% above normal for the average spending western traveller to Phuket which is the market for the reopening scheme at least until the end of 2021.

Up to 5 Covid 19 tests for already fully vaccinated travellers within a two-week holiday timeframe

Among the conditions announced by Governor Narong on Wednesday was that all visitors to Phuket will have to undergo no less than 4 Covid-19 tests starting with one on arrival at the airport.

This, combined with the preflight requirement of a negative virus test within 72 hours of departure, means that all holidaymakers will be subject to no less than 5 tests, in the course of just over two weeks, even though all travellers entering Phuket will be required, at the outset, to be fully vaccinated with two vaccine shots of vaccines approved by the World Health Organisation if the passenger or tourist is not booked for 14 days quarantine.

It is also being reported that Thai travellers entering Phuket are also now required to be vaccinated and have one negative Covid test if they are not going into quarantine.

A failed Covid 19 test from among the series will mean immediate quarantine at the visitor’s own expense

This is already reported to be creating difficulties for Thais who regularly holiday on the island. 

Up to May, the cost of Covid-19 tests in Thailand was over ฿3,000 and it is not known what each incoming tourist will be charged.

It is clear, however, that the requirement is an expensive one and one which will significantly disrupt any holiday break.

We do know that anyone suffering a positive test result will be immediately required to move into quarantine at their own expense.

Tourists must stay in their hotel room while awaiting the Covid 19 test results from the laboratory

The first test will be on arrival at the airport, the second will be on day 6/7 followed by a third on days 12/13 with one final test on day 14.

A further condition, also laid down by health officials, is that all those taking Covid 19 tests will be required to wait for the result in their hotel bedroom in the immediate period after until the lab results are brought back giving them the all-clear.

This burdensome regime for holidaymakers comes after visitors will already be required to submit complicated paperwork and information to a Royal Thai embassy or consulate including proof of $100,000 insurance cover, be fully vaccinated for at least 14 days and have the certified results from a negative Covid 19 test 72 hours before departure in the first pave to obtain a Certificate of Entry.

This is an addition to hotel costs and the price of a flight to Phuket.

Uncertainty raised about Phuket flights after Wednesday’s details only referred to Thai Airways

There is speculation about the number of flights that will end up flying into Phuket as a result of the continued uncertainty about the programme in recent weeks. This prompted even the Thai Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, to concede that a significant number of cancellations had been caused by potential visitors who simply switched off or went elsewhere.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand Ltd which operates air traffic control for the Ministry of Transport at Phuket International Airport suggested that the organisation is only preparing for a 6% increase in incoming flights based on the current number of flights, which has already dropped by 45% for this year following last year’s catastrophic level of activity.

Plan in place to curtail or cancel the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ scheme if infections on the island begin to rise and get out of control as Thailand still faces a threat

On Wednesday also, Natapanu Nopakun, the Deputy spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while speaking at a Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration briefing, confirmed that plans were in place to limit or curtail the Phuket reopening experiment or close it down altogether in the event of a spike in cases.

Concerns over nationwide tallies and talk being entertained of a one-week shutdown in Bangkok

It coincides with the kingdom reporting its highest death tally from the disease ever on Wednesday with 51 deaths and 31 deaths on Thursday reported alongside over four thousand new infections across the kingdom.

The serious nature of the growing threat with fears of the spreading Delta or Indian variant, currently being examined by top Thai virologists, led the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Wednesday to concede that the suggestion of a one-week long lockdown of Bangkok may have to be considered by the country’s leadership.

If infections on Phuket rise to 90 per week, officials will begin to review the reopening scheme

Mr Natapanu told reporters that if the infection rate reached 90 cases per week in Phuket, this would be a basis for at least a reconsideration of the reopening scheme as well as if there was evidence that the disease was widespread on the island or that the outbreak was putting pressure on its hospital beds.

‘For example, if there are 90 persons infected per week in Phuket, that would be a key criterion for reconsideration of the scheme once it has started, or for any adjustments,’ Mr Natapanu explained. ‘Also if all three districts in Phuket are affected, and in that more than six villages are affected, that would be another criterion.’

Phuket still recording cases but the population vaccination rate should help keep cases low

Phuket has seen 712 cases since early April when the third wave of the virus broke out which averages at nearly 60 cases a week leaving at 28th or 77 provinces or areas in Thailand in terms of severity of the virus at this time. 

It should be noted, however, that since April the province has seen herd immunity achieved which should significantly reduce the threat.

Mr Natapanu said a key consideration for public health officials also would be if contact tracing ability for infections broke down.

Enthusiasm knocked out of the plan by new rules and restrictions say respondents and potential travellers

‘Also, if the hospital bed capacity exceeds 80%, that would be another criteria’ he further explained to reporters. ‘If the situation becomes worse in Phuket after the opening of the province on the 1st of July with these particular criteria, then it would be reconsidered.’

No wristbands for tourists but a tracking app must be used on tourist’s smartphones at all times

One requirement which didn’t make it to the final announcement was a suggestion that all tourists would have to wear wristbands but authorities have specified that all must download the MorChana tracking app on their smartphones and allow themselves to be monitored.

The province of Surat Thani including Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Phangan will also reopen from July 1st as part of the reopening plan although the scheme in that province provides for more control with sealed routes and movement limits in the initial seven days with a short hotel quarantine period at the beginning.

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Further reading:

Prayut says Thailand will revert to normal for tourism from mid-October as Phuket set to reopen

Closure of Phuket bars and alcohol restrictions turn off prospective foreign tourist says survey

Blow for travellers: strict rules, no bars and entertainment venues allowed to open in Phuket

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Phuket still to reopen by July 1st but key economic agency predicts a 99% wipeout in tourist arrivals

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Economy to rebound as the year progresses driven by exports and a return of mass foreign tourism

Door closing on quick foreign tourism return as economic recovery is delayed to the end of 2022

Phuket’s plan to self vaccinate on hold as Interior Ministry orders private sector out of vaccine deals

Refloat of foreign tourism in the 2nd half of 2021 with vaccines pushed by minister and industry for the sector

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