Thailand’s tourism sector has jumped to the head of the COVID-19 vaccination line, with the country’s most popular resort island embarking on a mass inoculation programme two months ahead of the rest of the country.
The island of Phuket aims to deliver shots to at least 460,000 people – most of its population – as it gears up for July 1, when vaccinated overseas visitors will no longer be required to quarantine.
Phuket also has its own international airport and tourists would be able to roam the island freely without posing any coronavirus risk to the rest of Thailand’s population.
“If we can build immunity for 70-80% of the population on the island, we can receive foreign tourists who have been vaccinated without the need for quarantine,” Phuket’s Vice Governor Piyapong Choowong said.
While medical workers, members of the cabinet and the elderly were the first to be vaccinated, Thailand’s decision to prioritise Phuket over other parts of the country comes as the tourism sector has been devastated by the virus with 1.45 million jobs lost since last year.
Just 6.7 million foreign tourists visited Thailand in 2020, spending some $11 billion. That compares with nearly 40 million in 2019, when they spent $61 billion.
The government wants to see at least 100,000 tourists come to Phuket in the third quarter. It also hopes that as vaccinations worldwide progress it will see a spike in demand in the fourth quarter and that nationwide some 6.5 million visitors will have spent $11 billion by the end of the year.