Phuket, Thailand (CNN) – For the first time in over 15 months, Thailand’s popular holiday island, Phuket, allows vaccinated international travelers to enter without quarantine restrictions.
On July 1, around 11 a.m., 25 passengers arrived at Phuket International Airport on a direct flight from Abu Dhabi. It was the first of four flights scheduled to arrive on Thursday and carrying around 400 vaccinated tourists from Doha, Tel Aviv, Singapore and Abu Dhabi as part of the new Phuket Sandbox program.
In an interview with CNN on the eve of the reopening, Thai Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said the Phuket sandbox was necessary to revive the country’s economy, which has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In 2019, we had domestic and international tourism revenue of 3 trillion baht ($ 93.7 billion), but by 2020 it shrank to 800 billion baht,” he said.
Of that number, Phuket generated more than 470 billion baht in revenue thanks to the arrival of 10 million tourists – second only to Bangkok.
International travelers flying to Phuket must go through a series of checkpoints.
Mark Phillips / CNN
The July 1 opening is seen as largely symbolic and is unlikely to be a godsend in tourism numbers.
Phiphat estimates that in the first three months of its reopening, around 100,000 international tourists will arrive in Phuket and generate sales of around 9 billion baht.
Off the island, the country continues to fight its third and worst wave of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. On Thursday, Thailand reported a record 57 Covid-19 deaths and 5,533 new cases, mostly in Bangkok.
The total death toll since the pandemic began is 2,080.
However, Phiphat says “Phuket is perfect for travel right now” despite the surge in total coronavirus cases in Thailand.
âIf you look at the nationwide infection count, we’d say we’re not ready yet. If you just focus on Phuket, where we’ve laid our foundation for more than three months, I would say Phuket is 100% ready, âhe said hey.
The staff at Phuket International Airport are expecting arriving travelers on July 1, 2021.
Mark Phillips / CNN
The reopening plan relied on efforts to vaccinate 70% of the island’s residents. More than 80% of the island’s population have been vaccinated with at least one dose, and about 65% were fully vaccinated by June 30, according to the Phuket PR office.
Domestic travelers entering Phuket must have received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, two doses of other brands, or recovered from Covid-19 within 90 days.
Otherwise, they must provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test within seven days of their arrival.
These steps were taken to prevent infections from spreading to the island, with officials threatening to postpone the reopening of Phuket if daily Covid-19 cases on the island hit double digits.
Celebratory splashes of water will be sprayed over an Etihad Airways plane arriving from Abu Dhabi at Phuket International Airport on July 1, 2021.
Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP / Getty Images
Phiphat says that if successful, officials will use the Phuket process as a blueprint to open nine more popular tourist destinations on October 1. Bangkok, Chonburi, Chiang Mai, Petchaburi, Prachuap Kiri Khan, Phang Nga, Krabi, Surat Thani and Buriram.
Currently, Bangkok and five other provinces are subject to coronavirus restrictions for 30 days, which went into effect on June 28 after a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Outside of Phuket, all arriving travelers must be quarantined at an Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) facility for 14 days.
Entering the Phuket Sandbox
The Thai government has announced a plan to allow vaccinated tourists a quarantine-free trip to the holiday island of Phuket. CNN’s Blake Essig shares how this could be a challenge for Thailand, which is struggling with getting vaccine doses.
For those who wish to fly to Phuket, a list of conditions must be met.
Visitors must apply for an entry permit. You will also need to provide proof of an insurance policy that covers treatment for Covid-19 up to $ 100,000, a negative PCR test done within 72 hours of departure, and a certificate of vaccination against Covid-19 19 with an approved vaccine no less than 14 days prior to the travel date.
A full list of requirements can be found on the Thailand Tourism Authority website.
Above: An aerial photo shows a lone visitor at Karon Beach in Phuket on June 30, 2021 – one day before the start of the Phuket Sandbox Tourism Program. Credit: Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP / Getty Images
CNN’s Karla Cripps contributed to this feature.