Thailand’s ballyhooed sandbox just got a little bigger.
The COVID-19 task force on Monday gave the greenlight to the so-called “7+7” extension to the Phuket sandbox.
Effective immediately, the new program will allow fully vaccinated travelers arriving from abroad to spend seven nights on Phuket and then another seven in select other destinations before being able to move freely around Thailand, current restrictions aside.
Those other destinations include Koh Phi Phi, Koh Ngai, and Railay in Krabi; Khao Lak and Koh Yao in Phang-Nga; and Surat Thani’s three holiday islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
Current travel and health measures for the Phuket sandbox remain unchanged. If you wish to go elsewhere for your second seven nights of monitored non-quarantine, however, you must obtain a transfer form from your hotel in Phuket, declaring that you have stayed on the premises for seven nights. You also must show two negative Covid-19 tests, one conducted on arrival and the other on day six or seven of your stay on the island.
After that, you can travel onward to some of Thailand’s other beachy paradises, although only via approved modes of transport.
To get to the Surat Thani islands, you’ll have to fly direct to Koh Samui via Bangkok Airways (and then hop on a ferry if traveling to either Koh Phangan or Koh Tao).
To reach Krabi’s three sandbox destinations, you’ll have to use SHA Plus-certified boat or ferry services.
To travel to Phang-Nga, you’ll have to hop aboard an SHA Plus-certified boat or ferry to reach Koh Yao or use the SHA Plus-certified car service from Phuket direct to your SHA Plus-certified hotel in Khao Lak.
If you choose to leave Thailand before those second seven nights are up, you’ll have to proceed directly to the Phuket airport on the day of your departure, showing a plane ticket or other proof of travel to get back onto Phuket.
The Phuket sandbox launched at the start of July to cautious optimism and criticism about its timing. So far, the pilot project has largely been a success, with fewer than 60 of the roughly 15,000 international travelers to arrive having tested positive for Covid-19.
The island economy, meanwhile, has received a minor jolt. The Phuket sandbox has generated over THB1 billion in revenue, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) — albeit a fraction of the THB470 billion Phuket enjoyed from tourism in 2019.
A similar project on Koh Samui has been less successful. Since kicking off July 15, the Samui Plus sandbox has welcomed about 500 travelers, according to the island’s tourism association.
Officials are nevertheless pegging a gradual, nationwide reopening on the success of these programs.
In a press release, TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said, “The Phuket Sandbox 7+7 Extension… will lead the way to the reopening of more pilot destinations, which are currently preparing appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of both the tourists and local people.”
Since Mar 2020, international arrivals have cratered to record lows, and so too have tourism dollars.