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Thailand Adds New Sandbox Destinations as Omicron Surges



Thailand Adds New Sandbox Destinations as Omicron Surges

The government of Thailand has added three popular beach destinations to a visa program that lets foreign visitors bypass mandatory quarantine, restoring some hope to the Covid-hit tourism industry seen as key to future economic growth.

Under the so-called sandbox programme, foreign tourists who are vaccinated can enter Krabi, Phang Nga, and Koh Samui as well as Phuket, without having to undergo quarantine, as long as they spend at least a week in these destinations.

Relaxed visa regulations are yet another government initiative to relaunch the travel industry amid the emergence of the Omicron variant, which causes a new outbreak of Covid.

Despite helping attract some 350,000 travellers in just two months, the tourism-dependent country halted the wider “Test & Go” program indefinitely last week to stem a rash of new illnesses.

Although the number of tourists arriving in Samui under the sandbox programme is likely to be 50% lower, Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, says that “it is still better than zero, still better than a total travel ban.” “The suspension came during the peak travel season, so it had quite a significant impact on the industry.”

As a result of the faltering reopening strategy, Thailand’s growth outlook is set to deteriorate. The tourism sector contributed almost a fifth to the economy before the pandemic, with 40 million tourists generating more than $60 billion in 2019.

As new variants and subsequent border controls emerge, both in Thailand and abroad, it poses a threat to tourist arrival estimates and growth. This is according to Juliana Lee, an economist with Deutsche Bank AG. There may be a long wait for the full normalization of global tourism, in fact.

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Tourists will be hesitant to travel overseas until they are assured of the efficacy of treatments. It will take time until tourists feel confident about travelling overseas” Lee said.

Currently, Phuket, which was the first province to waive mandatory quarantine for immunised travellers on July 1, has about 60% of its hospital beds filled with daily cases, the highest rate since the pandemic began. Nonetheless, local officials are insisting the programme will continue, saying the island’s healthcare system can handle the resurgence.

Thailand is no different from many other countries in terms of outbreaks. We’re now offering travellers a chance to isolate themselves in hotel rooms,” said Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association.

The suspension and adjustment in Thailand showed that we acted quickly to limit the damage, and made adjustments as we learned more” Bhummikitti said.

As a result of the New Year holiday and celebrations, Covid infections have soared across the country, and there are now more Omicron cases detected at entry points than any other type of infection. According to the government, there were 7,133 new cases reported on Tuesday.

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