The most popular Thai resort island famous for its beaches is planning to fully reopen to vaccinated tourists by October to revive its tourism industry.
Phuket’s tourism industry has been harder hit than most, and stakeholders are eager to change that.
More than a dozen business groups, including the Phuket Chamber of Commerce and the Phuket Tourist Association (PTA), are planning to pool funds to vaccinate 70 per cent of the island’s population above 18 without waiting for a government roll-out. They are betting that it will be safe to open the region to foreign tourists once the local population achieves herd immunity.
The plan, which will need government approval, also seeks to waive a mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement, a major hurdle for many potential travellers. This will allow thousands of vaccinated tourists particularly from Europe and the US who usually spend their winter months in Phuket to visit, according to PTA president Bhummikitti Ruktaengam.
“Phuket has always been a huge contributor to the Thai economy,” Mr Bhummikitti said. “Today, we are standing up to take control of the situation. We don’t have a lot of money now, but we are giving one last push, hoping that this will save us.”
This comes as further evidence emerges that vaccines are effective in stopping not only infection but spread among the vaccinated.
Phuket wants approval by October at the very latest according to Bloomberg. This falls in line with official goals presented by Thailand to have 70% of all locals fully vaccinated by September 2021, at which point health risks to the local population would be almost entirely mitigated with a level of ‘herd immunity’.
Under the plan, called “Phuket First October”, the tourism industry will import vaccines through private firms and may acquire shots from Sinovac Biotech, the Chinese maker whose vaccine is expected to be approved by the Thai regulator this month.
If Thailand accepts proposals to drop all quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers, it wouldn’t be the first. The Seychelles, Iceland, and Romania are among early adopters of the policy, and Hawaii is in talks to initiate a similar policy within months.
The government vaccine roll-out is expected to achieve herd immunity only by 2022, according to Health Ministry officials.
With the Thai tourism industry racking up losses and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, Mr William Heinecke, chairman of Minor International, which runs more than 500 hotels across 55 countries, last week urged Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to prioritise tourism workers along with front-line and healthcare employees for inoculation. The move could facilitate quarantine-free travel for people with “vaccination passports”, Mr Heinecke said in a letter to the Prime Minister.
Phuket could be a pilot site for Thailand and once it is successful, the model can be rolled out to other destinations, Mr Heinecke said, citing the example of Seychelles, which last month announced quarantine waivers for vaccinated visitors.