THE ‘PHUKET SANDBOX’ – APPROVAL LIKELY, BUT THE RULES ARE CHANGING!

Phuket is poised to become the first Province in Thailand to accept local and international visitors again on 1st July; referred to by the Tourism Authority of Thailand as ‘Phuket Reopening’ day, or the ‘Sandbox’ model.

The Center for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) meeting has approved the Phuket Sandbox model in principle; however, Thailand’s Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), still needs to give its full approval on Monday (7th June) and the Cabinet on Tuesday.  The final requirement is publication in the Royal Gazette; expected a few days later.

The Royal Coast provinces of Prachuap Khiri Khan and Phetchaburi are scheduled to welcome tourists in October, following the Phuket Sandbox model and any lessons learned.

The ‘Rules’ for this reopening have been amended in recent days and some uncertainties remain.  Potential travellers to Phuket would be well advised to carefully consider expected changes to the ‘small print’ before making final plans.

WHAT ARE THE LATEST SANDBOX RULES?

  • Visitors must be vaccinated to avoid 14 days of quarantine

Everyone has to be fully vaccinated by a vaccine for more than 14 days that is recognised by the Thai government, WHO or their own country; that means a full set of jabs. Visitors must have documentation proving their immunisation from their home country, and the recognised vaccine. (WHO).

Children under the age of six traveling with vaccinated parents are allowed to enter, while children aged six to eighteen are subject to COVID tests upon arrival.

  • Covid Testing Requirements

The details of Covid testing are not yet known.   This may be the same as the three tests for quarantined tourists, but full details are expected next week.   However, one certainty is that a positive test will result in hospitalisation and the end of your holiday.

  • Fourteen days (previously seven days) in Phuket is required before travelling to other Thai provinces.

Stays in Phuket can be shorter than fourteen days but these travellers cannot transit to other destinations, including nearby islands in other provinces.  They are free to travel around the island, then a fourteen days, free to go!

  • Pre-booking at a SHA+ hotel is a requirement.

Regardless of having access to a private home, travellers are required to stay at an ‘Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration Plus Certificate’ (SHA+) hotel.  This certification program commenced on 4th June and means that at least 70% of the hotel’s employees are fully vaccinated as well as the management adhering to COVID-safe practices.

Some commentators have suggested the Rules do not stipulate that travellers must sleep in the hotel and could, for example, go to a home where they have access, but that is clearly not the intent of the requirement.  Even if this is a potential loophole; it’s likely to be closed soon!

  • International travellers must be travelling to Thailand from a country that is regarded low to medium risk.

The full list of those countries will be released soon and will be updated every few weeks.

These travellers can transit in Suvarnabhumi airport before flying to Phuket with a dedicated terminal and transit flights.

  • Bars, alcohol and social gatherings.

The national rule to close all pubs and bars and to prohibit alcohol being served in restaurants also applies to Phuket.  It is hoped that these rules will be relaxed by July, but there are no guarantees.  As recently as June 1st Phuket Immigration declared that, apart from gatherings of members of the same household, parties or social gatherings with guests in private or public settings are banned with offenders subject to fines or visa cancellation.

Bangkok, Krabi, Phang Nga, Surat Thani, Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Buriram, Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan, are scheduled to welcome tourists in October, all following the Phuket Sandbox model.

Seven airlines are expected to resume direct flights to and from Phuket early next month, namely Thai Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, El Al, British Airways, and Air France.

EDITOR’S NOTE

The information provided in this article is based on reviewing the latest reports from official sources, including the Tourism Authority of Thailand plus the Thailand Broadcasting Service.

An additional source is Richard Barrow, who describes himself as a British expat living in Thailand for twenty-six years who has been blogging about life and travel in Thailand since 1998.  He runs the computer department for a Thai school in Samut Prakan.

Richard says he was invited to a private meeting with the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand including senior executives to hear the latest news about the Phuket Reopening and was told by the Governor he was confident that there will be no holdups.  As a very credible source, information posted by Richard has been included.