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Phuket is going it alone as it eyes herd immunity as the only lifeline for its devastated tourism industry. Business groups on the southern resort island have announced a plan to finance the vaccination of 70% of the island’s population, in the hope of being able to open to foreign tourists from October. The groups involved, which include the Phuket Tourism Association and the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, say they cannot afford to wait for the government’s national vaccine rollout, although their plan will still require government approval.

Business groups say they plan to pool resources to fund the vaccination of 70% of over 18s in the hope this will give the local population herd immunity and enable the island to re-open to international tourism by October. As part of the plan, called “Phuket First October”, the current mandatory 14-day quarantine would be waived for vaccinated arrivals. The president of the Phuket Tourism Association, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, says tourism on the island won’t survive much longer without such an initiative.

“We can’t wait any longer. If we have to wait, we won’t survive. If we miss this winter peak season, we’d have to wait another year.”

The tourism groups plan to procure supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Chinese Sinovac vaccine, which is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration this month. The government’s national rollout is not expected to grant the Kingdom herd immunity until 2022 and meanwhile, the current 14-day quarantine is proving a significant hurdle for the tourism industry. Markland Blaiklock from the Centara Hotels & Resorts group says tourism operators hope this latest plan might lead to quarantine requirements being lifted for vaccinated tourists arriving in Phuket.

“People aren’t going to come to Thailand for business or for a 2-week vacation if they have to spend 2 weeks in quarantine on arrival. So, we really hope that they can be relaxed.”

William Heinecke, from hotel group Minor International, has called on the government to add tourism workers to the priority list for vaccines, along with frontline workers and healthcare staff.

Those behind the initiative to achieve herd immunity for Phuket say it could be a pilot for lifting quarantine restrictions in other parts of the country. Bhummikitti says tourism operators on the island are taking matters into their own hands in the fight for survival.

“Phuket has always been a huge contributor to the Thai economy. Today, we’re standing up to take control of the situation. We don’t have a lot of money now but we’re giving one last push, hoping that this will save us.”

SOURCE: Bloomberg

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