BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand will waive quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors arriving on the resort island of Phuket from July 1, the first key reopening for the tourism-reliant nation.
On Friday (March 26), an economic panel chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha approved the proposal by Phuket's private sector and business groups to inoculate at least 70 per cent of the island's residents to prepare for the reopening for vaccinated tourists, according to Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.
The government plans to test the reopening plan in Phuket before expanding to other key tourist hot spots, like another resort island, Koh Samui, to help restart the tourism industry battered by a year without its millions of tourists who contributed to one-fifth of the economy before the pandemic.
The approval means that Phuket will reopen three months earlier than the rest of the country, which is expected to reopen for those who are fully vaccinated only in October.
Phuket residents will also be prioritised in the vaccine roll-out, with more than 930,000 doses expected to be administered before the reopening, Mr Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the island's tourist association said separately earlier this week.
An early reopening could add more than 30 billion baht (S$1.3 billion) to the economy, but a successful reopening also hinges on the international vaccine passport agreement and negotiations with other countries to allow free travel, Mr Bhummikitti said.
"There are people who are fully vaccinated and ready to travel. But they would only choose destinations that have vaccinated its residents and don’t require quarantine," said Mr Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who expects at least 100,000 visitors to Phuket in the third quarter.
Despite a flare-up in infections earlier this year, Thailand has largely contained the pandemic, with just 92 deaths and 28,577 cases over the course of the pandemic.
That has spurred the government to shorten quarantine for visitors to 10 days from two weeks starting April 1, with a plan to further reduce it to a week for those with proof of vaccination travelling to Phuket, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai and three other destinations.
The government will continue to gradually relax control measures as it consider the health of the economy and people as equally important, Mr Prayuth said Thursday.
Thailand’s central bank trimmed its growth forecast for this year to 3 per cent while lowering its estimate for tourist arrivals to 3 million from December’s estimate of 5.5 million.
The pandemic has devastated the nation’s tourism industry, which provided more than US$60 billion in revenue from about 40 million foreign visitors in 2019.