One long reason why Hongkongers are not enticed by Phuket scheme

Top News | 2 Jul 2021

Agencies and Jane Cheung

Thailand has reopened the popular resort island of Phuket to vaccinated travelers, though the SAR's tourism sector says it hardly appeals to Hongkongers unless they get a pass from quarantine on their return home.

The kingdom is pinning hopes for a revival on the "Phuket sandbox" - a model that allows vaccinated travelers from low-risk and medium-risk countries such as the United States and Spain to visit without quarantine.

Yesterday, 249 passengers on flights from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Singapore landed on the island, whose sandy beaches have been relatively deserted since the coronavirus hit. The first 25 travelers arrived in Phuket on an Etihad Airways flight before noon and underwent screening procedures.

The launch of the quarantine-free scheme comes as Thailand grapples with its worst Covid-19 wave and the worrying detection of the highly contagious Alpha and Delta variants first discovered in Britain and India.

The country yesterday recorded 5,533 new cases, taking the tally to 264,834, including 2,080 deaths.

But Phuket remains relatively unscathed as authorities have rolled out a mass vaccination campaign in preparation for the quarantine-free arrivals, with 70 percent of residents receiving at least one dose.

A command center will track foreign visitors' movements through a mobile app - which tourists are required to install on arrival - and check for potential outbreaks.

Despite the fanfare, tourism operators are lukewarm on the resuscitation of the island's economy, which has seen nearly 90 percent of hotels shutter.

Tourists have to obtain an entry permit, have proof of vaccination and a negative virus test within 72 hours of departure, as well as insurance covering Covid-19-related expenses of at least US$100,000 (HK$780,000).

They must remain in Phuket for a fortnight if they wish to travel to the rest of Thailand and take three coronavirus tests during this period.

Hong Kong Tourism Association executive director Timothy Chui Ting-pong welcomed Phuket opening borders to global travelers.

But he believes the scheme gives very limited help to Hong Kong's travel industry as locals are still required to undergo hotel quarantine upon their return.

Currently, Thailand is listed as a high-risk country by SAR authorities. Fully vaccinated travelers returning from Thailand must present a negative virus test result conducted within 72 hours before flying to Hong Kong.

They can enjoy a shorter hotel quarantine of 14 days, from 21, if they present a vaccination record. And then it can be halved to seven days if they possess a positive antibody test result taken within the past three months.

Despite that, Chui said: "This [having to go through quarantine] isn't how traveling should go."

He said authorities' top priority should be reopening borders with Macau and the mainland.

"Before the pandemic, Thailand was one of top four popular travel destinations for Hongkongers," he said.

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