Update (18 Apri): As per the Bangkok Post, the July timeline for reopening Phuket may be pushed back due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, and a lack of vaccines. Prior to the current wave, Phuket had secured more than 100,000 doses and was poised to get an additional 930,000 for 70% of the population to achieve herd immunity by June.
But the spike in COVID-19 cases has created the need for vaccines to be distributed to other provinces. It also seems other countries may not be as keen as Phuket to open up bubbles- in the words of Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, “Most importantly, we still have to hear from other countries that we already started travel bubble negotiations with about their confidence regarding the same timeline”
More news is expected next week.
For those of you looking forward to travel in 2021, here’s some good news: The Thai government has approved a plan to waive quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors entering Phuket from 1 July 2021, making the resort island the test case for reopening Thailand’s beleaguered tourism industry.
It still remains to be seen whether the Singapore government lifts SHN requirements for vaccinated returnees, but the resumption of some form of leisure travel by the end of the year seems inevitable at this point.
The Phuket Tourism Sandbox
The reopening plan has been dubbed the “Phuket Tourism Sandbox”, and involves vaccinating at least 70% of the island’s residents to prepare for the arrival of tourists. Those working in tourism-related industries like hotels and the airport will receive priority, alongside those with underlying health conditions.
As the sandbox name suggests, certain parts of Phuket will be ringfenced and opened, so don’t expect the same sort of free reign as before. However, it’s obviously in the government’s interest to have tourists out and about spending, so rest assured you’ll be able to visit the usual haunts instead of being confined to your resort.
Tourists will need to be fully-vaccinated (typically defined as two weeks after your second dose, for dual-dose vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna), and present a vaccination certificate, vaccination passport, or IATA travel pass. They will still be required to take a PCR test at the airport, and use the ThailandPlus contract tracing application while in Phuket.
The vaccination regime in Singapore currently schedules doses as follows:
- Pfizer: Dose 1 → 21 days → Dose 2 → 14 days→ Fully vaccinated
- Moderna: Dose 1 → 28 days → Dose 2 → 14 days→ Fully vaccinated
Factoring in the 14-day post-vaccination wait, there’s a total lead time of 35 days for those receiving the Pfizer vaccine, and 42 days for the Moderna. In other words, should you wish to be the first to travel to Phuket on 1 July 2021, you’d need to get your first vaccination dose by 27 May 2021 (Pfizer) or 20 May 2021 (Moderna).
Singapore has yet to start vaccinating the general population, but there’s been some recent good news thanks to the early arrival of supplies, putting us almost two weeks ahead of schedule.
What about quarantine on return?
What will make or break this is whether Singaporean travelers will still have to serve an SHN upon return. As it stands, those returning from Thailand have to serve a mandatory 14-day SHN either at home or a dedicated facility at their own expense.
Even though the SHN can be served at home, I foresee that this will still be a major deterrent to would-be travelers, so it’s effectively a deal breaker in my book. However, the Singapore government has already hinted that it may extend further carrots for vaccination, such as the waiver of SHN requirements for vaccinated travelers returning from overseas.
This all depends on whether the data shows that vaccinations also prevent the transmission of COVID-19, but the initial signs are promising.
Singapore Airlines flight schedule to Phuket
Singapore Airlines currently operates two flights per week to Phuket on the Boeing 737-800 aircraft it just inherited from the erstwhile SilkAir.
If you run a search for July, you might get excited to see six daily flights scheduled- but keep in mind that Singapore Airlines has only updated its schedules till May. July still reflects their regular, pre-COVID schedule, and will almost certainly be trimmed down even if quarantine-free travel commences.
For what it’s worth, I’ve taken a punt by booking a redemption on SQ724 on 1 July 2021, hoping to be on the first flight out. All award tickets redeemed by 30 June 2021 receive unlimited free changes anyway, so I can modify it as much as I need to without incurring extra charges.
One-way redemption rates between Singapore and Phuket using KrisFlyer miles price as follows:
|Economy Class||Business Class|
I’m quite certain that if quarantine-free travel becomes a reality, we can expect to see additional flights added by budget carriers like AirAsia and Jetstar too.
Given how dependent Thailand is on tourism, it’s unsurprising to see officials champing at the bit to get the borders back open. There’s been talk of resort islands opening ahead of the rest of the country, and it looks like Phuket will now be the chosen one. Koh Samui, for what it’s worth, is eyeing an October reopening.
For us in Singapore, it all boils down to whether the government will lift the SHN requirement for vaccinated returnees, a question that will become more pressing as the vaccination drive scales up.
Watch this space.