PHUKET, Thailand, July 3 (Reuters) – Foreign tourists newly arrived on the Thai island of Phuket were able to move freely without quarantine on Friday for the first time in more than a year, as Thailand launched a special program to visitors vaccinated on the island.
Tourists swam in hotel pools and strolled along Phuket’s postcard-perfect beaches after receiving a COVID-19 test result within 24 hours of arrival.
“It’s the perfect place to relax and cleanse our minds, our heads, after a long time,” said Sigal Baram, lying by the pool, who came from Israel with her husband and friends. The group was among the first to arrive in the country.
The “Phuket Sandbox” initiative allows free movement on the island for fully vaccinated tourists, with no quarantine required, although masks are mandatory in most public places.
While five-star hotels and restaurants have welcomed tourists again, local street vendors have said they are not benefiting from the plan as tourists mostly frequent large hotels.
“There is no way street vendors will get money from foreign tourists … it will go to hotels and restaurants instead,” said Yupin Papor, a massage therapist who lost her job during the pandemic and became a street vendor selling food on the beach.
Thailand lost around $ 50 billion in tourism revenue last year, when foreign arrivals fell 83%.
Phuket has been particularly affected by job losses and business closures.
“I see the stores closed. It’s a big difference for me compared to before, ”said Omar Alraeesi from the United Arab Emirates, who comes to Phuket every year.
Millions of people visited Phuket every year before the pandemic and the government and the tourism industry are hoping the reopening will help save its struggling economy.
Additional reporting by Jorge Silva and Artorn Pookasook, editing by Rosalba O’Brien
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