Thailand ponders endemic sandboxes for island hot spots

Thailand’s efforts to combat Covid-19 impact on tourism businesses may now include declaring the disease as endemic on three of the country’s most popular islands – Phuket, Koh Samui and Koh Chang.

If in place, this status would enable bars, restaurants and entertainment venues on the islands to resume trading, stimulating domestic travel and providing a boost for local hotels and DMCs.

Koh Samui is one of the islands to possibly declare Covid-19 as endemic as early as July

The motion to designate the disease as endemic, presented by health secretary Kiattiphum Wongrajit recently to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, includes the need for the locations to show a high percentage of vaccinations in the local population, well-prepared and responsive medical services, and a drop in infections.

In a Bangkok Post report, the health secretary said the three islands were selected for their tourism potential as top destinations in Thailand, as well as their “limited areas, meaning diseases can be more easily controlled there”.

Kiattiphum believes that putting these endemic sandboxes into action is a step towards Thailand declaring Covid-19 as endemic nationally as early as July.

People visiting venues in the endemic sandboxes will have to follow strict requirements, including being fully vaccinated and wearing masks.

Reopening bars and entertainment spots will act as a powerful stimulant for the local tourism industry. However, challenges such as the Russia-Ukraine war and continued international travel restrictions imposed by China have led to muted industry sentiments. Stakeholders see the proposal as being overdue and having little effect on broader issues.

Thanusak Phuengdet, president of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, said because the rate of daily infections continues to fall, the hospitality sector must be empowered to reopen more swiftly if they are to return to pre-Covid levels of business.

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