With fewer than 100 deaths and 30,000 cases since January, 2020, Thailand is generally regarded as a pandemic success story. But in a country where tourism provides as much as 22% of the GDP, the economy has suffered greatly. And fewer places have been hit harder than the tropical island of Phuket, the destination for roughly a quarter of the foreign tourists who have visited Thailand in recent years. But now, the island may be welcoming back travelers sooner than expected – if those travelers have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Friday, officials approved a plan to allow international travelers to skip quarantine when arriving in Phuket if they have received the vaccine, beginning on July 1. The plan is to relaunch tourism on the island, ahead of the rest of the country.
This comes after local business groups proposed a plan to purchase enough of the vaccine to reach herd immunity on the island, and thus allow for travel. According to the Bangkok Post, a consortium of Phuket business interests pitched pooling their resources to purchase enough of the vaccine to create herd immunity on the island, paving the way for foreign tourists to visit.
The group, which unites business owners and organizations including the Phuket Chamber of Commerce and the Phuket Tourist Association, proposed using private funds to inoculate 70% of the adults on Phuket, which has a population of around 400,000 people. With herd immunity obtained, the island could do away with Thailand’s mandatory 14-day quarantine, a pesky deterrent for many potential international tourists.
Now, the plan is poised to press ahead, and if local vaccination efforts are successful, Phuket could be welcoming travelers months ahead of the rest of Thailand. Although Thailand has largely been seen as successful in having prevented the spread of the virus, the country’s vaccination rollout has been sluggish. With a lack of tourists hurting the economy, coupled with concern over travelers potential for bringing in the virus, Thailand has trialled a number of unique programs to encourage tourism, like yacht quarantine.
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