Coronavirus: Thailand's Koh Samui island plans to open to vaccinated tourists in October

Children play in the waves on a beach in Koh Samui, on Jan 17, 2021.
Children play in the waves on a beach in Koh Samui, on Jan 17, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand's southern resort island of Koh Samui plans to fully reopen to foreign visitors who are vaccinated, and will allow them to skip quarantine from Oct 1.

"The island's economy and infrastructure were built around foreign tourism, and businesses here have been struggling without foreign visitors over the past year," Mr Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said in a phone interview on Saturday (March 13).

"We need to reopen as soon as possible to be able to compete for visitors with other countries."

Koh Samui's quarantine-free reopening plan is similar to the initiative proposed by Phuket, another Thai resort island, which seeks to waive quarantine rules for vaccinated travellers and to inoculate enough residents to create herd immunity.

Like Phuket, Koh Samui has its own international airport on the island, which makes it a natural bubble isolated from the rest of the country.

Mr Ratchaporn said vaccinated travellers arriving on Koh Samui will also be able to travel quarantine-free to its neighbouring islands of Koh Tao, a diving destination, and Koh Phangan, home to the Full Moon Party.

These three islands will need about 160,000 doses of vaccines to cover at least 70 per cent of its current residents, he said.

Thailand is betting on a revival in tourism, which accounted for about a fifth of the country's gross domestic product before the pandemic, to return South-east Asia's second-largest economy to growth.

The local tourism industry has called for mandatory quarantines to be lifted from as early as July 1 so it can open to potentially millions of vaccinated visitors.

This month, the Thai government is expected to approve plans to recognise vaccine passports and reduce a mandatory quarantine period for inoculated tourists to seven days from the current 14 days in an effort to help its tourism industry.

Local businesses have said that foreign visitors would not return as long as there's a quarantine requirement.