Thailand beach lockdown
Come July, it will again be time to set the beach-side chairs and tables in Phuket. Thailand expects an immediate windfall from its decision to bring forward the re-opening. Image Credit: Reuters

Bangkok: Thailand will waive quarantine requirements for vaccinated foreign visitors arriving on the resort island of Phuket from July 1 - the first key reopening for the tourism-reliant nation.

A panel chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha on Friday 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 hotspots, 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.

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 traveling to Phuket, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai and three other destinations.

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Early restart

The approval means that Phuket will reopen three months earlier than the rest of the country, which is expected to welcome fully inoculated visitors only in October. Phuket residents will also be prioritized in the vaccine rollout, with more than 930,000 doses expected to be administered before the reopening, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the island's tourist association said.

An early reopening could potentially add more than 30 billion baht ($963 million) to the economy, but its success hinges on the international vaccine passport agreements and negotiations with other countries to allow free travel.

Ready for travel

"There are people who are fully vaccinated and ready to travel," said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who expects at least 100,000 visitors to Phuket in the third quarter. "But they would only choose destinations that have vaccinated its residents and don't require quarantine."

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 $60 billion in revenue from about 40 million foreign visitors in 2019.