One of our most popular regular features here at The Pattaya News, which is devoted to factual, unbiased, neutral and timely information is our Fact Check where we look at various claims from social media and associated press and look at the facts to make a determination on if the statement is one hundred percent true. This feature is not based on speculation (even educated), opinions or guess work but cold, hard facts.
Today’s fact check is in response to a widely shared story about travel bubbles coming to Phuket next month. Some headlines and titles on social media, often in bold letters and meant to attract attention said “TRAVEL BUBBLES RETURN, FOREIGN TOURISTS COMING TO PHUKET NEXT MONTH!”
Is this true? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Q. Are Travel bubbles starting in Phuket next month?
A. Not in the term most people are thinking of when they hear the word travel bubbles, unfortunately. Travel bubbles have been described mostly as allowing people to come from low risk countries or areas without a fourteen day quarantine or heavy restrictions. The trial being proposed (but not set in stone) for Phuket is neither of these and is essentially just a widely expanded alternative state quarantine program.
Q. What exactly was stated?
A. Royal Thai Army Deputy Commander-in-Chief Gen Natthapol Nakpanit, who is part of the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration’s (CCSA) decision making team for loosening restrictions, visited Phuket personally yesterday, August 13, at the behest of Prime Minister Prayut Chan O’ Cha. Phuket is seen as a model for allowing more hotels to become alternative state quarantine hotels and help local business benefit from this program, but currently only two hotels are approved out of 51 having applied. By expanding the ASQ program more groups of pre-approved people can return to Thailand, as well as hopefully help local hotels and local business once the quarantine period has finished.
Q. What was the purpose of this visit?
A. The CCSA is primarily concerned with the safety measures for alternative state quarantine in terms of the Phuket Airport. A major defense point for the country, Phuket International Airport General Manager Thanee Chuangchoo has taken partnership with the CCSA and will be sending teams to visit Suvarnabhumi airport to determine best practices for quarantine and virus control at the airport. Any wide expansion of the ASQ program would require the airport defense measures to be top notch. Initially, travelers would still need to go through measures at Suvarnabhumi and then at Phuket airport to ensure everything was done properly, noted the CCSA.
Q. So…..what exactly was proposed next month by the CCSA?
A. The proposal, which is important to note is just that and not yet policy, is to select a trial group of pre-approved people from low risk countries to an expanded alternative state quarantine program in Phuket. This “may” (but not guaranteed) allow further ability to go to more areas around a resort or similar location. The trial group would be less than a 100 people. A pilot group would be around five people and may be earlier. If successful, the trial would expand.
Q. So this pilot, trial group…how do I apply? Is it foreign tourists?
A. This part, unfortunately, was also a bit misleading and confusing on some websites and social media. The group is not really tourists, but pre-approved from their embassy or consulate locally, visitors that fall in previously allowed categories to visit the country. International students and business people, with approved paperwork, covid tests, fit to fly, insurance, embassy approval, etc. are likely to be the first to visit Phuket in this expanded program. Read more here about the program and who can come in. https://thepattayanews.com/2020/08/13/fact-check-is-thailand-closed-to-all-foreign-tourists-until-2021/. If you wish to apply you will have to be in of the eleven groups currently allowed to enter the country at this time.
Q. This doesn’t sound like a travel bubble at all.
A. Because it isn’t, really. The point is to dramatically expand the ASQ program and allow more groups of people to enter the country and help Phuket hotels and hopefully local business after people get out of quarantine. The quarantine, however, is still required and still fourteen days. Officials are making sure the public knows there is no risk to them and people will not be allowed to wander around with no quarantine. If this pilot program is successful it may be rolled out to other popular tourist islands and areas in Thailand.
Q. I’ve heard the quarantine may be looser or more relaxed…is this true?
A. Not exactly. Resorts that are asking to be part of this trial ASQ may (but not guaranteed) have more permission for a person on quarantine to visit a private beach, pool, luxury areas reserved only for those on quarantine (not general guests) and not be confined to a room for two weeks. However, it is simply not true that one on quarantine could set their own agenda and go out for a night on the town, etc. Think of it as more of a “all inclusive resorts” proposals.
Q. This is silly. Nobody would sign up for this with all these restrictions.
A. According to the CCSA and a quick look at social media groups devoted to people locked out of the country, this is simply untrue. The CCSA says current hotel rooms are backed up through almost the end of September for Alternative State Quarantine and many people who traditionally stay three to six months a year or on retirement visas have said if they had the opportunity to come back they would, even if it meant a quarantine. It is true that this option would likely not appeal to a one or two week tourist.
Q. When will retirement/long stay tourist/those in relationships but not married legally/education visa/etc, etc. be allowed to return?
A. There is no date given. However, by expanding the ASQ program, this is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Q. When will real travel bubbles or short stay tourists with NO restrictions and NO quarantine be allowed to visit?
A. No date has been given. Thailand, from an official perspective, has zero locally spread cases of Covid-19 and is following an elimination, not suppression strategy. They have shown no interest in changing this plan anytime soon. That means it is likely some ways off.
Q. When will this trial begin?
A. In conclusion, it is a proposal. There should be more information from the CCSA on this proposal in the near future. There is no guarantee of it starting next week or next month at this point, although it is proposed.