Brits could be banned from joining Thailand’s Sandbox program

Phuket airport splashed back to life this weekend – but will UK travelers be banned?

Confusion reigned tonight on whether Brits and nationals of three other European countries will be banned from entering Phuket under the newly-launched Sandbox initiative for the popular Thai island whose cash-strapped economy is heavily dependent on international visitors.

On June 16, Thailand’s Department of Disease Control (DDC) published a list of 63 countries which, it said, presented a low or medium Covid-19 risk. Fully-vaccinated applicants from ONLY those countries were allowed to seek permission to join the Phuket Sandbox scheme which meant they escaped the unpopular isolation and quarantine in a government-approved hotel room for 15 nights.

Instead, the international tourists could enjoy the pleasures of Phuket more or less straightaway after new health tests, howbeit restricted to the island for the first two weeks of their vacation. After that period, and subject to ongoing Covid-19 clearance, they could travel to other provinces or fly to another country.

But the DDC issued a new list on July 1 which for the first time added the UK, France, Spain and Portugal to the “red” list of high-risk countries which appeared to preclude them from joining the Sandbox initiative in Phuket. At any rate in the eyes of the DDC. The Netherlands were graded “red” in the first DDC list and retain that status in the update.

At least three flights from UK are due to arrive in Phuket in coming days, although not all the passengers need necessarily be Sandboxers. The flights then proceed to Bangkok. The Sandboxers for these flights very likely had their certificates of entry issued by the Thai embassy in London on or before July 1, so there is absolutely no problem for them.

The Tourist Authority of Thailand has not confirmed the DDC list nor commented on possible future banning. Its website does refer positively to flights from London over the next few days which will carry Sandbox tourists. The Thai embassy in London at press time was still carrying a promotional advertisement for the Phuket Sandbox.

Clarification of the issues is awaited by many parties here and abroad. It could perhaps be argued that the DDC list of “red” or prohibited countries is advisory. Thailand does not formally operate a British-style traffic light sequence of destinations which carries the full force of the government’s mandate. Or the “red” countries could be dropped from the banned list as quickly as they appeared. “Stuff happens” as Donald Rumsfeld used to say.

Even if the nationals of the four countries were banned from applying for Sandbox entry to Phuket, they can still apply to come to Thailand by applying at their embassy for a visa or a permission to stay in the traditional way. The difference is that non-Sandboxers, whatever their destination in Thailand, are subject to the hotel room quarantine and isolation for 15 nights. That rule applies whether they are fully or half or not-at-all vaccinated.

Several other Thai tourist-orientated provinces and districts are hoping to join the Sandbox principle over the summer and into the autumn, provided that they can vaccinate at least 75 percent of their host populations in time. The last thing needed at the moment is prolonged uncertainty about who is welcome and who is not.