Thailand has sealed off the island of Phuket from the rest of the country just 30 days after opening it to tourists without quarantine

Colorful Phuket sign on the beach
Under Phuket Sandbox, tourists were not required to quarantine upon arrival, but they were required to stay in Phuket for a minimum of 14 days. Lauren DeCicca / Stringer / Getty Images
  • Thailand has ordered the island of Phuket to be completely sealed off from the rest of the country.
  • On July 1, Thailand opened the island to international vaccinated tourists without quarantine, a landmark moment for tourism in Southeast Asia.
  • On July 28, Thailand recorded a daily record of 16,533 COVID-19 cases. Less than 6% of the country is fully vaccinated.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Phuket experiment lasted 30 days.

On July 1, the Thai government launched a plan called Phuket Sandbox and opened up the island of Phuket to international vaccinated tourists without quarantine. On July 30, it announced it would seal the island off from the rest of the country.

Under Phuket Sandbox, tourists were not required to quarantine upon arrival, but they were required to stay in Phuket for a minimum of 14 days before being allowed to travel to other parts of the country. All tourists were required to present a series of documents, including a certificate of entry, proof of vaccination, and a negative RT-PCR test.

But now, as of August 3, travelers from other Thai provinces will no longer be allowed to enter Phuket, the Bangkok Post reported. Overseas travelers, however, will remain largely unaffected, per Reuters.

The rule amounts to a walling off of Phuket from the rest of the country.

Director-general Kajornsak Kaewjaras of the Department of Disease Control (DDC) said the situation in Phuket would be monitored for two weeks to decide whether the Phuket Sandbox can be relaunched, under its current parameters, per the Post. Insider has reached out to the Tourism Authority of Thailand for comment.

Dale Ford is an American who has lived in Asia for 20 years and retired in Phuket six months before the pandemic began. He told Insider that the government’s announcement didn’t create any immediate change on the island.

“Domestic travelers can no longer come to Phuket, but since the domestic flights from the red zone have been canceled for a week or so and even before that only fully vaccinated locals were allowed in Phuket, there hasn’t been any noticeable change,” Ford said.

“Sandboxers are fully vaccinated, mostly with mRNA vaccines, and are tested four times,” Ford added. “The worry shouldn’t be about international travelers passing COVID-19 to the locals; the worry should be about the locals passing COVID-19 to the international travelers.”

The updated restrictions come as COVID-19 cases in Thailand soar: On July 28, the country recorded a daily record of 16,533 cases, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) data shows. It also continues to lag in vaccinations: Only 5.6% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated. In Phuket, meanwhile, the story is starkly different: More than 60% of the island’s population had been vaccinated by mid-July, Bloomberg reported.

The US announced on July 29 that it would be sending 2.5 million vaccine doses to Thailand and Cambodia, with 1.5 million Pfizer doses set to arrive in Thailand on Friday. But the country is already facing down a health crisis, with hospitals on the brink of collapse and COVID-19 patients being moved to sleeper trains to get them out of Bangkok.

Earlier this month, Insider spoke to long-time Phuket residents and locals about their reactions to their island reopening to tourism. They expressed split sentiments: While some were proud of Phuket for being the first part of Thailand to reopen to tourists, others feared for their futures should another wave of COVID-19 break out.

“If there is another outbreak, what are we going to do? Shut down again? Then what’s next,” said Pimchanok KhetARan, a 29-year-old sales executive who has lived in Phuket for seven years.

To date, Thailand has recorded 543,000 COVID-19 cases and 4,397 deaths, per JHU data.