Virus-hit Phuket welcomes back tourists

BANGKOK: Vaccinated foreign tourists are due to fly into the Thai resort island of Phuket today, the first to return to its beaches and golf courses under a pilot programme to revive a tourism industry devastated by the novel coronavirus.

Under the “Phuket sandbox” plan, foreign tourists vaccinated against Covid-19 will not have to spend any time in quarantine and can move around the island freely.

After 14 days, provided three coronavirus tests they must take are negative, they can travel elsewhere in the country.

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

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has flown to Phuket to oversee the reopening, with 249 tourists due to arrive on flights from Israel, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

The glowing entrance to the normally bustling Bangla Street sits empty on Monday. (AP pic)

“Most Israelis have been vaccinated and they will be the main group of tourists entering Thailand this time around,” said Taweesin Visanuyothin, a spokesman for the government’s Covid-19 taskforce.

The government expects about 100,000 foreign tourists to visit Phuket in the third quarter of this year and generate 8.9 billion baht in revenue.

Thailand lost about US$50 billion in tourism revenue last year as foreign arrivals plunged 83% to 6.7 million, from a record 39.9 million in 2019.

Phuket was hit particularly hard by job losses and business closures.

While Phuket has seen few Covid-19 cases ahead of its reopening, Thailand today reported a daily record of 57 deaths from the coronavirus, the second day in a row of record-high fatalities as authorities struggle to control a worrying third wave of infections.

The latest deaths take Thailand’s total fatalities to 2,080 since the pandemic started last year.

The Covid-19 taskforce also reported 5,533 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infections to 264,834.


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