Overseas tourists are finally moving freely on the Thai island of Phuket | World news


PHUKET, Thailand (Reuters) – Newly arrived overseas tourists on the Thai island of Phuket were able to move freely without quarantine for the first time in more than a year on Friday as Thailand launched a special program for vaccinated visitors to the island.

Tourists swam in hotel pools and strolled along Phuket’s postcard-perfect beaches after receiving a COVID-19 test result within 24 hours of arriving.

“This is the perfect place to just relax after a long time and purify our minds, our heads,” said Sigal Baram, who is lying by the pool and visiting with her husband and friends from Israel. The group was among the first to arrive in the country.

The Phuket Sandbox initiative allows fully vaccinated tourists to move around the island without the need for quarantine, although masks are required in most public places.

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While five-star hotels and restaurants started welcoming tourists back, local street vendors said they didn’t benefit from the plan as tourists mostly visit large hotels.

“There is no way street vendors will get the money from foreign tourists … it will go to hotels and restaurants instead,” said Yupin Papor, a massage therapist who lost her job during the pandemic and became a street vendor selling groceries on the beach.

Thailand lost about $ 50 billion in tourism revenue last year when overseas arrivals plummeted 83%.

Phuket has been particularly hard hit by job losses and business closings.

“I see the shops closed. For me this is a big difference from before,” said Omar Alraeesi from the United Arab Emirates, who comes to Phuket every year.

Millions of people visited Phuket each year before the pandemic, and the government and tourism industry hope the reopening will help save the battered economy.

(Additional reporting by Jorge Silva and Artorn Pookasook, editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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