Phuket tweaks sandbox rules

Phuket tweaks sandbox rules

A man is tested as a mandatory measure for arriving passengers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease at Phuket airport on Nov 29, 2021. (Reuters photo)
A man is tested as a mandatory measure for arriving passengers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease at Phuket airport on Nov 29, 2021. (Reuters photo)

Phuket has experienced major problems with its sandbox scheme while the Covid-19 infection rate there keeps rising.

Deputy provincial governor Pichate Panaphong said Phuket identified four problems after it opened as a pioneer province to welcome tourists under the Phuket Sandbox scheme.

The first was the delay in approving the Thailand Pass among foreign tourists.

He said the process should be a one-stop service and operate 24 hours. There should be a round-the-clock call centre to answer foreigners' inquires. He had submitted the idea to the Interior Ministry asking them to consult the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

The next issue was a shortage of RT-PCR test facilities. Labs in both the public and private sectors were not enough to handle second RT-PCR tests. Since Jan 4, the province has added five more mobile lab vehicles. It expects to handle up to 1,200 people per day.

Thirdly, hospital-cum-hotels (hospitels) and hotel isolation facilities were insufficient to cater to foreign patients with mild symptoms, he said.

He had asked the Phuket Public Health Administration to work with Vachira Phuket Hospital and the Thai Hotels Association (southern chapter) to open more hospitels or renovate some of their venues into hotel isolation facilities.

He said Vachira Phuket Hospital will join hands with more hotels to offer 200 rooms as hospital facilities.

Lastly, many international tourists travel with health insurance but their insurance policy does not cover medical costs for mild Covid-19 symptoms. He suggested the CCSA impose a regulation for international arrivals to also purchase local health insurance.

Governor Narong Woonsiw said the problems found during the first version of the Phuket Sandbox will lead to improvements. He will introduce "Phuket Sandbox Version 2" soon to ensure tourists enjoy safe and smooth travel during their stay, he said. In addition, Phuket will also protect its residents by introducing a booster shot.

The public health office has to ensure that facilities will be sufficient for locals who are infected and have mild symptoms. Big cleaning activities in public places will be held regularly.

"Currently, the local economy is doing well due to the increasing number of tourists. I want residents, business operators and all stakeholders to keep following Covid-19 measures. If we can do that, we will get through this crisis together," the governor said.

As of Jan 5, Phuket had reported 283 Covid-19 cases in total comprising 227 new local infections, 46 sandbox cases and 10 infections from the Test & Go programme.

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