Ever since Phuket opened for tourism last week as Thailand’s guinea pig (AKA “Phuket Sandbox”), there have been a lot of visible signs meant to reassure the few adventurous souls who jumped through the many hoops to reach our fair island. I saw a big banner outside of Tesco-Lotus the other day stating, “Welcome Sandbox Tourists! We Are Vaccinated!” This matches Central Festival’s signs proclaiming it to be the first 100% vaccinated mall in the entire Kingdom.
Even my local open-air market is getting into the act. It is very rare to see a tourist venture this far off the beaten path. As recently as last week, I was pretty much ignored as I prefer to be. I have been coming to this market ever since I moved into the neighborhood in late July 2011. I do have my usual two or three vendors that will warmly greet me but delight in walking anonymously from one end of the line of stalls to the other as I make my purchases. It is rare for me to visit any stalls not “on my list”.
However, this evening as I approached the temperature booth at the entrance to the market, numerous vendors and patrons asked me “Are you a tourist?”, “Are you vaccinated?” and usually added “Welcome to Phuket!” While having my temperature scanned (it was a — high for me — 36.7), the attendant asked if I had my vaccination certificate with me and I fished it out of my backpack. This was the first time since receiving my second jab that I had been asked to show it. In turn, I received a big purple wristband as seen in today’s photo. I guess it gives me full approval to roam the Sandbox at will.
I didn’t take any photos but the stalls I visited all had signage proclaiming that the staff were fully vaccinated along with the Phuket Sandbox logo. Several people gave me thumbs up when they spotted my purple wristband. There were other colors as well — red, white and green. I wonder what they indicate.
As far as I know, none of the arrivals on those first few planes are even allowed outside of their SHA+ hotels1 yet and, even so, I doubt their destination would be this tiny corner of the island. There have, however, been three “escapees” reported so far — one who simply never turned his tracking app on after leaving the airport, one who never checked into his hotel and another elderly man found wandering around late at night far from his approved hotel. The local news reported that he was disoriented and apparently had Alzheimer’s disease. Would have been difficult to assemble the mountain of paperwork needed to travel if this was indeed the case.
Not to worry, all of these “rule breakers” were rounded up and returned to their hotels after receiving stern warnings. That doesn’t count the one “fully vaccinated” man from the United Arab Emirates who tested positive for COVID-19 after arrival and is now locked in a quarantine facility. Those who travelled with him (presumably the entire planeload) have been relocated to a different hotel for their own 14-day quarantines.
Welcome to Phuket Sandbox!
1No, I do not know what SHA stands for, but I do know that the “+” means that 70 percent of their staff is fully vaccinated…