Tourists return to Thailand as Phuket reopens to vaccinated travelers

PHUKET, THAILAND - JULY 01: Healthcare workers wait for arriving international passengers to provide coronavirus swab testing at Phuket International Airport on July 01, 2021 in Phuket, Thailand. Starting on July 1, Phuket, a Thai tropical resort island and one of the top travel destinations in the southeast Asia region opens up for foreign tourists who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus to visit without quarantine for the Phuket Sandbox tourism scheme. (Photo by Sirachai Arunrugstichai/Getty Images)
Phuket has opened to international visitors under the Phuket Sandbox program © Sirachai Arunrugstichai / Getty Images

After months of border closures, Thailand welcomed its first international tourists today to the island of Phuket, as part of the so-called "Phuket Sandbox". The Sandbox is the only entry point into Thailand for non-essential travel, providing visitors who stay for more than 14 days the opportunity to travel to other parts of Thailand.

The first flight of international tourists arrived into Phuket today under the Sandbox model. As per the program's conditions, fully vaccinated visitors from "low- or medium-risk" countries are permitted to enter Phuket without quarantine. The Thailand Tourism Authority (TAT) says arrivals must be fully vaccinated, and must have tested negative not more than 72 hours before arrival. 

Travelers under the Phuket Sandbox program are required to stay in a hotel approved by the country’s Safety & Health Administration for the first seven nights. While on Phuket, visitors are not required to quarantine and are free to leave their accommodation and travel around the island visiting beaches, restaurants and entertainment venues with few restrictions.

Phuket Sandbox measures
Phuket sandbox measures ©Tourism Authority of Thailand

Masks are required outdoors and visitors are required to take a second test on day six or seven if they are staying less than a week. Visitors staying a fortnight or longer are required to take two additional tests on day six or seven and again on day 13 or 14. Visitors are also required to register at a government website and use an app that tracks their movements. After 14 nights on Phuket, they are free to leave the island to travel to other points in Thailand.

In preparation for tourists, many of Phuket’s pandemic restrictions have been lifted, and the island’s tourist-oriented businesses have been allowed to operate more or less normally. More information on the Phuket Sandbox model can be found here.

A beautiful swimming pool is surrounded by cabanas at a tropical resort.
Phuket, Thailand © Maxim Tupikov / Shutterstock

The Phuket Sandbox is the first stage in Thailand's border reopening plans. Although currently experiencing a surge in the rate of infections, particularly of the Delta variant, the country is moving ahead with plans to reopen its borders more widely this year. Speaking at a press conference in June, Thailand's prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said fully vaccinated visitors must be allowed entry "without quarantine or other inconvenient restrictions," the Associated Press reported.

While he acknowledged that reopening comes with a risk, particularly as the third wave of the pandemic has not yet subsided in Thailand, Chan-ocha said: "I think when we take into consideration the economic needs of the people, the time has come for us to take that calculated risk." Details are still scant but the Associated Press has reported that the borders could potentially open by mid-October.

Introducing Thailand

The tourism-dependent country is reeling from an almost total lack of visitors over the previous year, and the government is keen to reverse the country’s economic stagnation. Mass vaccination began in June at centers across the country, with the aim of vaccinating 50 million people, or about 70% of the entire population, by the end of the year.

This article was first published on April 2, 2021 and last updated by Sasha Brady on July 1, 2021.

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