Why Phuket sandbox will fail just like every other plan to open Thailand to foreign tourists

Phuket beaches are likely to remain empty as tourists choose more open destinations for their holidays

OPINION

With only 11 days to go before the so-called ‘Phuket sandbox’ begins, and foreign tourists can return to Thailand once more, it has become obvious to everyone except the Thai government, the CCSA and the Tourist Authority of Thailand the Phuket sandbox will fail.

That became even more obvious this morning as the Thai government increased the requirements for entry into Thailand yet again.




To such an extent that, if tourists don’t want to take the chance of being trapped in their hotel in Phuket or their holiday to be canceled before they arrive in Thailand, most will not book a holiday via the Phuket sandbox.

Even if they are one of the small minority that might fit into the sandbox requirements, and are currently allowed to fly to Phuket.

 

Only the vaccinated will be allowed onto Phuket, and even then you will still be required to take 3 Covid-19 tests during your holiday

What are the latest restrictions for the Phuket sandbox?

In the latest Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) briefing this morning, it was announced new restrictions for provinces reopening to foreign visitors will soon be in place.

Those restrictions include requirements that all provinces opening to foreign visitors must have 70% of their residents vaccinated, and 100% of workers in their service sector must also be inoculated.

That regulation alone means it is likely most provinces will be still closed to foreign tourists in early 2022 due to the current shortage of Covid-19 vaccines in Thailand.

As if that wasn’t impossible enough to achieve, the CCSA has also released the latest qualifications for tourists under the Phuket sandbox scheme — or any other ‘sandbox’ that is instituted in a Thai province for that matter.

The latest qualifications for tourists to be allowed to enter Phuket under the Phuket sandbox plan are:

  • Foreign nationals must reside in a low or medium-risk country for at least 21 days before arriving in Thailand.
  • The Public Health Ministry will decide which those low or medium-risk countries are, and those countries could change depending on infection rates.
  • All arrivals must be vaccinated with a valid vaccine in accordance with WHO standards at least 14 days before arrival, and must have a certificate proving vaccination to present on arrival.
  • If visitors have had a Covid infection, they must still be vaccinated at least 14 days before arrival.
  • Arrivals must have a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of arrival. With long flight times to Thailand, for most this will mean being tested the day before departure at the latest. As obtaining PCR test results in some countries can take up to 3 days, this requirement alone may prevent some from traveling to Phuket.
  • Arrivals must have health insurance covering Covid-19 treatment with a minimum coverage of $100,000.

In addition, all Thai nationals and residents returning to Thailand can only do so if they are returning from a low or medium-risk country.

 

If there are more than 90 infections on Phuket in a week, the sandbox plan would be paused — does this mean tourists would be in lockdown in their hotels?

The Phuket sandbox would be paused if more than 90 infections in one week

One of the most worrying things for any tourist planning on arriving in Thailand under the Phuket sandbox, however, is this — according to the new CCSA restrictions, if there are more than 90 infections in Phuket in one week, the sandbox will be ended until infections decrease.

What that means for tourists potentially stuck on Phuket with another lockdown imminent has not been announced. What that means for those that have already paid for trips to Thailand, and will then be unable to travel, has also not been announced.

Will those already in Phuket not be allowed to leave their hotels should infection rates increase? Will they be required to go into quarantine? Will there be daily Covid-19 tests? Will they have to leave Phuket earlier than planned? Will they not be allowed to travel onto other areas of Thailand once their 14-day mandatory stay has ended?

Will those who have paid for holidays in Phuket lose the money they spent if the sandbox is paused? Will airlines/hotels allow them to reschedule their holiday without a fee? Will visas that have been granted in order to enter Thailand be extended to a date when they are allowed to enter?

Until these questions and many more are answered, most tourists with any concern for possibly being stuck on Phuket, stuck in Thailand if another lockdown occurs, or losing the money spent on a Phuket holiday should the sandbox end are likely to avoid visiting Phuket.

 

Why the Phuket sandbox will fail

Just like every other plan to open up to foreign tourists the Thai government has put into place in the last year, and then destroyed with constantly increasing regulations, it is likely the Phuket sandbox will fail as well.

Here are just a few of the reasons why:

  • Any foreigner arriving in Phuket must fit an extremely narrow criteria. Criteria that eliminate most people who might want to visit Phuket from July 1st onwards.
  • Thailand itself is a medium-risk to high-risk country, particularly if the Delta variant continues to spread. That fact alone will eliminate many vaccinated tourists who will not want to take the risk of holidaying in a higher-risk country than their own. A country where less than 10% of the population has currently been vaccinated. This is especially true if their own governments mandate a 14-day quarantine upon return.
  • All bars and nightclubs on Phuket are closed, mandatory masks must be worn everywhere outdoors including the beach, a GPS tracking wristband has to be worn at all times, a tracking app must be downloaded to every arrival’s phone, tourists are only allowed to stay in specific (expensive) hotels, tests for Covid-19  must be carried out three times during their 14-day stay, and there is a mandatory $100,000 Covid-19 health insurance policy. These are basic requirements for the Phuket sandbox, with most being unacceptable to many foreign tourists.
  • Most restaurants, shops, and other businesses on Phuket are currently closed temporarily/permanently, so there will be little to do for any foreign tourist arriving on Phuket.
  • Most of Europe is now open to any tourist who is vaccinated or with a negative PCR test, which means most tourists could decide to avoid Thailand and holiday elsewhere.
  • The CCSA says 200 flights have been arranged into Phuket with only 6,780 confirmed bookings so far. Even if no-one cancels now these new regulations have been announced, that is fewer than 34 passengers per flight. Already financially-struggling airlines cannot feasibly sustain those loss-making flights for long before canceling most flights in and out of Thailand.

 

Many businesses on Phuket have been closed for months

In addition, with the newly announced CCSA regulations, it is likely most businesses in Phuket will choose to stay closed, as their owners cannot afford to spend the money to open up only to be forced to close a week or two later if infections begin to spike.

With the latest CCSA regulations for the Phuket sandbox announced, most commentators on social media now agree — the Phuket Sandbox will fail even before it has started.

Thus dooming the people of Phuket to an increasingly catastrophic economy, even more businesses to permanently close, and Thailand to be locked down to foreign tourists until well into 2022.

Unless the Thai government decides to stop panicking about a virus with a 99.5% survival rate, and do exactly what Europe has done.

Use common sense, and open up to any tourist that can provide a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test.