Everything you need to know about reopening Phuket to international tourists, Lifestyle News
Phuket has always been Thailand’s sea and sand tourist playground, so it seems fitting that its grand reopening plan has been dubbed Phuket Sandbox. If you haven’t heard, Phuket Sandbox points to the island’s pilot project to reopen borders to vaccinated international tourists – without quarantine.
This log-laden plan was freshly launched on July 1st and has been hailed as a promising alternative to travel bubbles in Asia (the latter has so far proven to be rather prone to bursting).
So is it time to pack your swimsuit after the second shot? Not quite. On the one hand, there is a laundry list with entry requirements that you have to wade through.
On the other hand, in the event of a Covid-19 case, there are a few groundbreaking caveats to keep in mind – and yes, Phuket has already seen a handful since it reopened. If you feel like playing in the sandpit, here’s everything you need to know about Phuket reopening.
Which countries qualify?
Currently, 68 countries and territories have trimmed the Thai government’s approved list – including Singapore. Airlines now offering direct flights to Phuket include Singapore Airlines, as well as Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.
In the first week of the Phuket Sandbox, a total of 2,113 international visitors have landed. And based on booking data, Thailand expects over 11,800 travelers to hit the island’s shores by the end of July.
As you might expect, there is an extensive checklist of requirements to check off before visitors can go ashore. Here’s what you need:
Vaccination certificate: A certificate of vaccination with a Covid-19 vaccine approved by the World Health Organization, at least 14 days before arrival. Unvaccinated tourists have to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Entry certificate: An entry permit issued by the Thai embassy, which must be applied for online in advance.
Negative RT-PCR test: A proof of the negative result of the Covid-19 RT-PCR test, which was carried out within 72 hours of departure.
Health Insurance: An insurance policy that covers healthcare costs during your stay with coverage of at least US $ 100,000 (S $ 136,000). All medical treatment for Covid-19 is at the traveler’s own expense.
Proof of Accommodation: Confirmation of booking from hotels that are SHA + certified by the Thai government. Travelers must stay at approved hotels for a minimum of 14 days before deciding whether to transfer to private or non-SHA + accommodation.
Departure Tickets: Travelers must stay in Phuket for a minimum of 14 days if they wish to visit other parts of Thailand. Those staying less than 14 days will be required to present confirmed flight bookings for departure from Thailand instead.
During your stay
Upon arrival, you’ll need to do a Covid-19 RT-PCR test – once you’ve secured your negative test results, you can hit the road and grab your piece of paradise.
You will need to have another RT-PCR test on day 6 or 7, and again on day 12 or 13. All test costs must be prepaid by travelers, with each test ranging from THB 2,500 to THB 4,000 (approximately S $ 104 to S $ 166).
Travelers will also need to download the ThailandPlus app on their phones for contact tracing throughout their stay. And of course, masks are a must in public areas, including on the beach.
What’s open in Phuket?
If you’re getting ready for boisterous parties, here’s the bad news: bars, clubs, karaoke venues, and other entertainment venues on the island will remain closed. However, eating in restaurants is allowed and you can buy and consume alcohol until 11pm.
For those who want to be pampered, spas and salons are also now open. It’s normal in shopping malls, theaters, and water parks, although amusement parks have to close at 8:00 p.m. And of course, Phuket’s famous beaches serve a postcard-perfect dose of ocean and vitamin D, though you may find the atmosphere less lively than usual.
ALSO READ: Tourism First! Phuket Island in mass vaccination before the rest of Thailand
What happens if Covid-19 strikes?
The sandbox program only started after more than 70 percent of people living on Phuket were vaccinated, according to local officials. This puts it well above the nationwide vaccination rate in Thailand, which is currently only 4 percent.
It all sounds pretty good on paper, although the effects of the reopening are harder to predict. So far, six Covid-19 cases have been found among tourists. On July 7, a man from the United Arab Emirates became the first foreign visitor to test positive on arrival.
On July 11, two unvaccinated Myanmar children tested positive for Covid-19 and arrived in a family group of seven. The next day, three more cases were reported – a Myanmar national who was traveling with the family of seven, an African who came with two friends, and a Swiss teenager who came with his family.
All in all, the rate of first-time cases remains relatively low as Phuket welcomed 3,917 visitors in the first ten days of reopening. However, this could be cold comfort to those who are in quarantine. Travelers with proven Covid-19 cases as well as other passengers who are considered high-risk contacts must undergo a 14-day quarantine in an “Alternative Local Quarantine” (ALQ) hotel – at their own expense, of course.
More ominously, Phuket also reported its first local case of the more contagious Delta variant this week, allegedly commissioned by a Bangkok traveler. While the island’s local cases have remained in the single digits so far, authorities have made plans to close the sandbox should the weekly number of infections exceed 90.
Thailand’s tourism minister said that if successful, the sandbox program could potentially roll out to other popular travel destinations in October – including Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phang Nga.
This is increasingly being questioned as a third wave of coronavirus is now sweeping across the rest of the country. The number of daily cases across Thailand exceeded 9,000 this month; Bangkok, along with nine nearby provinces, has been locked again since July 9th.
This article was first published in City nomads.