Phuket sours on Sandbox

Phuket sours on Sandbox

Firms pitch full reopening by Dec 1

Guests walk past a hotel swimming pool in Phuket on Aug 14, 2021 as tourists take advantage of the
Guests walk past a hotel swimming pool in Phuket on Aug 14, 2021 as tourists take advantage of the "Phuket Sandbox" programme for visitors fully vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus. (AFP photo)

The private sector in Phuket is urging the government to fully reopen the resort island by Dec 1, saying the move can bring in more than 210 billion baht in tourism-related revenue in just three months.

The call came as businesses in Phuket realised that they won't be able to survive with the island only partially reopened under the Phuket Sandbox scheme.

"Only over 20,000 tourists have come over the past two months since the Phuket Sandbox was launched," said the vice-president of Phuket Tourism Association, Nanthida Atiset.

"We can't continue this way. Hotels are suffering losses.

"What we need is 'freedom day' on Dec 1."

Along with the president of Phuket Tourism Council Thanet Tantipiriyakit, Ms Nanthida led local business associations to submit their proposal for the island's reopening, under a new campaign called "Phuket Freedom Day".

Under the proposal, all businesses on the island will fully resume, with all residents of the island returning to their usual way of life while remaining safe from Covid-19 by observing public health guidelines.

With domestic travel adapted to a "new normal", the province will be able to attract some 3.5 million tourists who will come between December and March next year -- about half the number of tourists in the same period before the pandemic -- bringing in some 210 billion baht in tourism-related income.

All target groups on the island should receive a third booster jab for the reopening to succeed. Meanwhile, tourists would be required to show proof of vaccination and/or undergo a rapid Covid-19 antigen test prior to entering, the groups said in their proposal.

The proposal was designed to follow the United Kingdom's model for reopening, which required 90% of target groups within the population to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Ms Nanthida said.

To achieve the goal, she said, Phuket will need to roll out more jabs. About 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will have to be procured, along with 70,000 of the Pfizer vaccine for interdermal injections -- which require 20% of the usual dose required for a booster shot, but confers equal immunity against the virus.

She cited the result of a study in the Netherlands which showed the technique was as effective as the intramuscular injection method, in which a full dose was administered.

Vachira Phuket Hospital is conducting a trial on intradermal injections, using 20% of the usual amount of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on those who have already received two shots of the Sinovac vaccine, according to the groups.

So far, 76.5% of Phuket's population have been vaccinated against Covid-19, while up to 87.1% of the elderly population and 70% of those with underlying medical conditions have been inoculated.

According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, from July 1 until Aug 31, 26,400 foreign tourists visited Phuket under the Phuket Sandbox programme, which has generated 1.6 billion baht in tourism related income.

Among these tourists were 3,647 Americans, 3,437 Britons, 3,141 Israelis, 2,174 French and 2,159 Germans, according to the Immigration Bureau.

As for those tourists who want to return to their home countries at the end of their visits but couldn't leave Thailand due to new Covid-19 protocols imposed by airlines, Phuket governor Narong Woonciew said the province is trying its best to help.

In some cases, tourists weren't aware that their airlines require a proof of a negative Covid-19 test, which usually takes at least 48 hours to issue, leaving them stranded at the airport, he said.

"We are compiling updates to help tourists," he said.

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