Thai island seeks quarantine waiver for vaccinated visitors

BANGKOK, March 25 (Reuters) - Thailand’s resort island of Phuket is pushing to waive compulsory quarantine for tourists vaccinated against COVID-19 from July, when it expects 70% of its local population to have been inoculated.

The island, which is visited typically by about a quarter of foreigners who travel to Thailand, is leading a project to revive a tourism industry battered by the pandemic, which has weighed heavily on its broader economy.

“On July 1, we will be able to have tourists who have received two vaccine doses come to Phuket without having to stay in quarantine,” Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn told reporters on Thursday.

“After one week on the island, without symptoms and with negative tests, they can travel to the rest of the country.”

Thailand will from next month allow vaccinated visitors to undergo one week of quarantine instead of the required two weeks.

Though its strict rules have kept coronavirus cases to a fraction of those in many other countries, it has caused tourist numbers to plummet.

The central bank expects 3 million foreign tourists this year, compared with 6.7 million last year and nearly 40 million in 2019, who spent 1.91 trillion baht ($61.4 billion).

The tourism ministry is requesting 925,000 vaccine doses to inoculate 70% of Phuket residents starting from next week, Phiphat said.

Thailand has administered about 100,000 doses among medical workers and at-risk groups so far. Authorities on Thursday approved Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, the third to be authorised after those of AstraZeneca and Sinovac .

Phuket’s “Tourism Sandbox” plan will be sent to the country’s coronavirus taskforce for approval this week.

Hoteliers are keen to deploy vaccines faster and wider to speed up the revival.

“The government has to expedite approval of additional vaccine brands and import more vaccines and inoculate more people immediately,” Thai Hotels Association president Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi told Reuters.

Hotels had become “zombies”, she said, with immense debt and no profits. (Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)