Phuket curbs welcome
The government has made the right decision in imposing tough conditions for reopening Phuket to foreign visitors from July 1.
The Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA), chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, on Friday endorsed what has come to be known as the Phuket Sandbox.
The plan, proposed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Sport and Tourism Ministry, will allow vaccinated foreign tourists to enter Phuket in a bid to revitalise businesses and the economy.
Still, the CESA decided to change the criteria for those visiting the resort island.
Under the original plan, Sport and Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn proposed that vaccinated visitors should have to wait seven days before being allowed to travel outside the island.
Under the change, the tourists must remain on the island a full 14 days before being allowed to carry on to other destinations.
Some business operators in Phuket had demanded scrapping quarantine and other measures to confine tourists to designated areas.
But in the end, the CESA has erred on the side of caution and approved a plan which retains a 14-day isolation protocol, albeit one that will still afford visitors the freedom to enjoy the island during this time.
Foreign tourists also must have certificates proving they have received one of the vaccines accepted by Thai authorities or endorsed by the World Health Organization at least two weeks in advance of travel.
As an extra precaution, the Public Health Ministry initially will only allow arrivals from a list of low-to-moderate risk countries.
Only hotels that have been awarded certificates will be allowed to host foreign tourists. Visitors will be asked to download a special contact tracing app on their phones for the duration of their stay.
They will also be expected to abide by Covid-19 safety procedures such as mask-wearing, frequent handwashing and temperature taking.
Whilst these criteria might seem excessive and risk stunting Phuket's recovery, the CESA has made the right call.
Only 3.5% of Thais have been vaccinated, compared to between 40 and 60% of citizens in the United States and Europe, so further outbreaks remain a risk.
And while many worry about the risk that tourists pose to Thailand, the converse is that shutting them out for too long could also be a hinderance to the country's re-emergence as a premier global travel destination.
The challenge is to get the balance right -- and the stakes are high. Few holidaymakers would be eager to risk their health by travelling to a location with a reputation as a hotbed for Covid-19 infections.
Reopening to tourists is necessary to boost the economy, but it must be done prudently to avoid a repeat of draconian measures imposed earlier. CESA will see how the Phuket model goes before deciding whether also to reopen Krabi and Koh Samui off Surat Thani to foreign tourists.
The prime minister's caution is to be welcomed at a time when he is under pressure to kick-start the economy again. His decision last week to put the breaks on the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's haphazard decision to let five types of businesses, including massage and tattoo parlours, reopen despite cases continuing to rise, is also the right one.
As the clamour grows for the kingdom to open again, it is essential that the safety of visitors and the public remains the top priority.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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