Koh Samui to welcome visitors under sandbox plan

Koh Samui is now ready to handle foreign tourists under Surat Thani province's tourism sandbox programme, the resort island's tourism promotion association announced on Saturday.

The announcement followed the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration's (CCSA) decision on Friday to allow Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan in Surat Thani and Krabi and Phangnga to join the tourism sandbox programme.

Previously, only Phuket was allowed to continue receiving tourists under its sandbox programme, which requires vaccinated tourists to fly there directly and spend at least seven days in a SHA+ hotel on the island. Under Phuket's programme, tourists can travel around the island but must pass a Covid-19 test before being allowed to travel elsewhere in Thailand.

"After the government announced the expansion of the sandbox scheme, travellers now have the choice to stay on Koh Samui as well as Phuket for at least seven nights," said Ratchaphorn Phunsawat, president of the association.

"We call it the 'Samui Plus Sandbox' programme," he said.

Mr Ratchaphorn said business operators, including those with hotels, were glad to welcome the return of about 2,500 visitors previously allowed to enter Koh Samui under the kingdom's Test & Go scheme.

The Covid-19 infection rate for tourists arriving on Koh Samui under the scheme is only 0.2%, he said, adding all patients only had mild to moderate symptoms.

In addition, the association is working with seven hotels to prepare about 500 rooms for isolation services for visitors who test positive for Covid-19 upon arrival, he said.

Phuket, meanwhile, logged 537 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, with 385 found among people on the island, 70 tourists arriving under the Phuket Sandbox and 82 travellers arriving in the province as part of the Test & Go scheme, said its health office.

A total of 234 Omicron cases were confirmed between Dec 15 and Friday, said the health office.

To cope with the rise in the number of new Covid-19 infections, Phuket yesterday opened a one-stop service station for anyone who initially tests positive for Covid-19 using rapid antigen test kits.

If confirmed with a positive result during their second test, the patient will be transferred to a hospital or isolation facility, said the office.

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