Thailand Delays Phuket Reopening

Foreign travelers will have to wait until at least November before planning a trip to the celebrated island.

An aerial view of Phuket’s west coast. (Photo: Miltiadis Fragkidis/Unsplash)

For anyone based outside Thailand, a holiday in Phuket may not be a realistic option until the end of the year. Thosaporn Sirisumphand, the secretary of the Centre for Economic Situation Administration, told Reuters earlier today that the government’s plan to let in small numbers of long-stay travelers will likely be finalized before the end of October. This dovetails with earlier comments by the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who suggested that Phuket’s reopening—intended to take place next month—would be postponed.

The “Safe and Sealed” plan put forward by the Tourism and Sports Ministry identified Phuket as the location for a pilot project, which aims to let in about 200 visitors from Australia and New Zealand during the initial phase. Following a 14-day quarantine period at designated hotels, these tourists would be given free rein to explore the island, and allowed to travel to other Thai provinces after staying in Phuket for at least seven days. But the Bangkok Post has reported that the draft tourism reopening plan faced a backlash from the local community, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha called for the scheme to be revised last week.

Another setback was the emergence of Thailand’s first locally transmitted Covid-19 infection in more than three months, detected last Thursday in a prison inmate with no travel history. He had recently worked as a DJ in Bangkok and visited a café on Khao San Road before his arrest, but none of his close contacts has so far tested positive for the virus.

The challenge for senior officials is to safeguard public health while mitigating the pandemic’s impact on the Thai economy, which is forecast to contract 8.5 percent this year. Overseas visitors typically account for two-thirds of Thailand’s tourism revenue, and without them, more than 3.2 million jobs are at risk in the local hospitality and travel sectors.

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