Fully vaccinated South African travellers now welcome in Phuket

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An aerial view of the Big Buddha and Kata Beach, a day before the 'Phuket Sandbox' tourism scheme that allows visits by people vaccinated against Covid-19. PHOTO: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha

In an attempt to boost the crippling tourism industry, Thailand announced its ‘sandbox scheme’ – first introduced in July – would now welcome fully vaccinated travellers to Phuket.

Thailand’s tourism industry took a knock during the Covid-19 pandemic when travelling restrictions reduced its visitor numbers from 40 million to a mere trickle.

Visiting Phuket

Thailand welcomes South Africans

In an email to The Citizen, Chiravadee Khunsub, Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand said: “We are excited to welcome South Africans back to our beautiful shores.”

“Thailand has always loved to host guests from around the world and with the lifting of travel restrictions, we can do so once again.”

Khunsub said they look forward to offering visitors “the best experiences, including jet-skiing off the coast, luxurious spa days and the perfect dining spots, while still following Covid-19 safety protocols.”

Fully vaccinated? Explore Phuket

The sandbox scheme was first introduced three months ago. It allows fully vaccinated travellers from low to medium risk regions access to freely explore Phuket.

However, there’s a catch. Travellers are only allowed to freely roam the popular beach island for a week only. Thereafter, travel to the mainland is quarantine-free.

The required limit was initially set for two weeks, however, the Thai government had to reduce the number of days to keep in line with national changes to quarantine rules.

Travellers from South Africa welcome

The Tourism Authority of Thailand confirmed scheme had now been broadened to welcome tourists from any country in the world, not just the 80 countries stipulated in June.

In addition to allowing fully vaccinated adults into the country, unvaccinated children will still be allowed to travel with their vaccinated parents, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said.

Thai authorities hope to reopen five other destinations from November – including capital Bangkok – with an additional 20 more locations in December.

Since the introduction of the sandbox programme, Phuket has generated $66.67 million from some 38,000 foreign visitors.

UK red list

The United Kingdom (UK) recently updated its red list and eased the restrictions for eight countries. South Africa was kept on the list, despite being on a downward Covid-19 trajectory.

The British government, however, believes South Africa is still a “high public health risk to the UK”, and cited the variants in SA as a point of concern.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira said the decision to keep SA on the red list was “unscientific”. He explained:

  • “Fact 1: SA is one of the most vaccinated countries in Africa.
  • Fact 2: SA has advanced genomics surveillance, more advanced than many of the countries not on the red list.
  • Fact 3: Number of daily infections are ten times less than the UK.
  • Fact 4: Variants are the same – 99% delta in SA and 99% in the UK”.

The Citizen/Cheryl Kahla