Phuket sandbox risks suspension amid surge in new COVID-19 cases

by BERNAMA / pic by TMR FILE

BANGKOK – The popular resort island of Phuket that reopened to fully vaccinated foreign travellers without the need to undergo mandatory quarantine is now seeing an increase of COVID-19 cases.

Statistic by Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) showed from July 19 to 25 the island reported 79 new cases, and first two days of this week (July 26 to 27) a total of 54 cases were recorded.

This means the Phuket Sandbox initiative could be suspended as the government had earlier said the initiative under which the island was opened to visitors would be called of if more than 90 cases reported within a week.

However, efforts are being taken to salvage the Phuket Sandbox initiative. In bid to halt the further spread of COVID-19, Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew said all local education institutions will remain closed until August 16 besides shopping malls and sports venues closed until August 2.

He said the local authorities had also imposed a ban on public gatherings of more than 100 people from Tuesday.

Local media reported that the increase of COVID-19 cases has been attributed to the people entering the island to seek jobs since the island opened for business.

Under the “Phuket Sandbox”, starting July 1, foreign travellers from low and medium COVID-19 risk countries can enter the island after testing negative upon arrival.

Besides that, they no longer need to undergo a 14-day compulsory quarantine but have to remain on the island for two weeks before travelling to other provinces in the kingdom.

Since Phuket reopened its doors on July 1, a total of 11,806 foreign travellers entered the island where 26 fully vaccinated arrivals were tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 26.

A total of 278,623 rooms nights have been booked up until September.

President of the Tourism Council of Phuket Thaneth Tantipiriyakij said officials would review the situation in coming days and decide on the need for additional  measures if required, Bloomberg news reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Thai Tourism and Sports Ministry had proposed to revise the conditions of “Phuket Sandbox” including reduce the mandatory stay in the island from 14 to seven days and tourists can spend another seven days on ‘sealed routes’ in other five provinces.

The five provinces are Krabi, Phang-nga, Samui, Chiang Mai and Lamphun (scheduled to reopen for foreign travellers in October).

The proposal would be discussed at CCSA meeting chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan o-cha soon.