CM – Thailand opens three islands despite delta threat, deadliest COVID wave hits nation

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Thailand’s efforts to save its ailing tourism industry took another step forward when Samui Island and three nearby islands reopened to vaccinated foreign visitors starting Thursday, despite an outbreak of the COVID-19 Delta variant in the country .

The islands – Samui, Tao and Phangan – welcomed visitors as part of their « sandbox » program, which started on July 1st. The program enables vaccinated travelers to visit Phuket Island. It also states that tourists do not have to be quarantined in a hotel, but cannot leave Phuket for two weeks.

Tourists have to stay in an approved hotel on Samui for a week and can leave their accommodation on the fourth day. They have to present a negative Covid-19 test before venturing to Tao or Phangan after the first week.

The reopening of Samui and its neighbors is slow compared to the island of Phuket, which vaccinated two weeks ago Tourists have been welcomed.

Phuket has welcomed 5,000 foreign tourists since reopening, 10 of whom tested positive for Covid-19. The authorities do not expect a large influx of tourists to Samui and the other two islands immediately.

The President of the Koh Samui Tourism Association, Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, described the start of the « Samui Plus » program on Thursday as a gentle opening. 75 percent of the residents of the three islands have been vaccinated.

« Arrivals are expected to improve after tourists learn the rules and regulations. And then some rules and regulations could be tweaked, » Ratchaporn told AFP .

The rest of the country is struggling to contain infections from the Delta variant, which, according to the authorities, now accounts for almost 80 percent of the number of cases. The virus hotspot Bangkok and nine provinces are subject to tightened restrictions, including a night curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than five people.

Bangkok wants to get the country’s important tourism industry back on its feet by mid-October. Before COVID, tourism and related sectors accounted for 20% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Thailand recorded nearly 9,200 new infections and a daily record of 98 deaths on Thursday.

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