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As she sees herd immunity as the only lifeline for her devastated tourism industry, Phuket is going it alone. Business groups on the southern resort island have announced a plan to finance the vaccination of 70 per cent of the population of the island, in the hope that from October they will be able to open up to foreign tourists. The groups involved, such as the Phuket Tourism Association and the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, say they can not afford to wait for the national rollout of the government's vaccine, although government approval will still be required for their plan.
Business groups say they plan to pool resources to fund 70 per cent of over 18s' vaccination in the hope that this will give immunity to the local population herd and enable the island to reopen to international tourism by October. The current mandatory 14-day quarantine for vaccinated arrivals would be waived as part of the plan, called 'Phuket First October'.
"We can no longer wait. We won't survive if we have to wait. If we're to miss this peak winter season, we will have to wait another year.
Tourism groups are planning to procure supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Sinovac Chinese vaccine, which are expected to be approved this month by the Food and Drug Administration. The national rollout of the government is not expected to grant the herd immunity of the Kingdom until 2022 and, meanwhile, the current 14-day quarantine is proving a significant hurdle for the tourism industry. The Centara Hotels & Resorts group's Markland Blaiklock says tourism operators hope that this latest plan might lead to the lifting of quarantine requirements for vaccinated tourists arriving in Phuket.
"If they have to spend 2 weeks in quarantine on arrival, people would not come to Thailand for a company or a 2-week vacation. So, we truly hope they can relax.
William Heinecke, from the Minor International hotel group, has called on the government, along with frontline staff and health workers, to add tourism workers to the vaccine priority list.
Those behind the herd immunity initiative for Phuket say it could be a pilot in other parts of the country to lift quarantine restrictions. Bhummikitti says that in the fight for survival, tourism operators on the island are taking matters into their own hands.
Phuket has always contributed immensely to the Thai economy. We are standing up today to take control of the situation. We don't have a lot of money right now, so we're making one last push, hoping it will save us.