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Asia Minute: Thailand Battles Coronavirus and Seeks International Tourists

Coronavirus Thailand Phuket
Tiwa Suvarnabhanu/AP
In this Wednesday, July 7, 2021, photo, tourist Liron Or, second from left, from Israel, and her family enjoy their vacation on Patong Beach Phuket, southern Thailand. (AP Photo/Tiwa Suvarnabhanu)

The Delta variant has added another layer to what was already a challenging pandemic environment. And that includes one of Southeast Asia’s most popular vacation destinations.

Thailand’s government is trying to balance growing cases of COVID-19 with a targeted marketing campaign for international tourism.

New cases of the virus are setting records in Thailand, now averaging more than 18,000 a day.

Even so, tourism officials have been moving ahead with efforts to draw fully vaccinated travelers from overseas to particular beach locations — starting with the resort destination of Phuket.

That island was reopened to tourism last month under a program called the “Phuket Sandbox” — after more than 80% of local residents were vaccinated.

That’s more than five times the vaccination rate for the entire Thai population, according to estimates from the Reuters COVID-19 tracker.

Last month, some 15,000 visitors came to Phuket — about 450 a day.

Pre-pandemic, the usual pace was 43,000 daily arrivals, but the president of the local tourism association still calls the numbers “encouraging.”

Nationwide, as COVID cases increase, the projected number of visitors continues to fall.

The Finance Ministry has cut its forecast of foreign arrivals for this year from 2 million to 300,000.

In 2019, that figure was just shy of 40 million.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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