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Thailand's Phuket plans private vaccination drive, aims for October reopening

BANGKOK: Thailand's resort island of Phuket is planning private coronavirus vaccinations for 250,000 residents in the hope the government will allow it to fully reopen to foreign tourists by October and save its battered economy, industry officials said.

The people of Phuket are losing hope,” Phuket Tourism Association President, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam said, adding that the island’s economy was at its lowest point in recent history.

At least 10 Phuket industry associations including hotel, tourism and chambers of commerce have agreed to pool resources to procure vaccines and inoculate at least 70% of the island to create sufficient immunity by Oct. 1 to receive tourists.

The island would look to obtain vaccine shots from Sinovac Biotech Ltd., a Chinese company soon expected to be approved by the Thai regulator.

The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has said that tourism-dependent areas like Phuket and Pattaya will be top priority for the upcoming vaccination process

The COVID-19 task force has addressed the concerns of tourism stakeholders after plans of Phuket and Pattaya to purchase vaccines privately to inoculate their whole hospitality industry floated. Meanwhile, Phuket and Koh Samui hope to vaccinate their local residents in order to safely welcome vaccinated travellers.

Last week, Thailand has announced its vaccination plan, which will be carried out in two phases. The first phase aims to inoculate the vulnerable population and frontliners by May; the second phase is the mass vaccination of the rest of the population that will take place in June and September.

Dr. Apisamai Srirangsan, the assistant spokesperson for the CCSA, confirmed that hospitality and tourism workers are “high priority” for the first phase of the vaccination plan.

Phuket and Pattaya’s GDP are heavily reliant on its tourism industry – amounting to 90% and 80%, respectively. Both cities were among the top 20 most visited cities in the world in 2019 and saw roughly ten million visitors a year each. However, these numbers dwindled down on the onset of pandemic a year ago.

Thai Beaches Won’t Reopen Fully Until Vaccines Become Available

Both Blaiklock and Heinecke said that Phuket would be a good pilot site to test the elimination of quarantine. Once it’s successful, the model can be rolled out to other destinations in Thailand, Heinecke said, citing the example of Seychelles which last month announced quarantine waivers for vaccinated visitors.

“Phuket has always been a huge contributor to the Thai economy,” Bhummikitti said. “Today, we’re standing up to take control of the situation. We don’t have a lot of money now but we’re giving one last push, hoping that this will save us.”