On 15 July 2021, Mr. Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr. Wichawut Jinto, Governor of Surat Thani Province, Dr. Manu Sukonsakul, Surat Thani Provincial Public Health Director, and Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, Governor for Tourism Authority of Thailand, held a joint press conference at The Seen Beach Club, Ko Samui, Surat Thani Province, to announce the readiness for Ko Samui, Ko Pa Ngan, and Ko Tao to welcome foreign tourists in the SAMUI Plus program aimed at reviving the local economy through tourism after a long period of stagnant economic activities due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Mr. Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Minister of Tourism and Sports, stated that General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand, had urged all sectors to reopen the country to foreign visitors in 120 days, starting from areas that are ready to do so, with Phuket Province as the first destination to participate in the project under the Phuket Sandbox on 1 July 2021. Thus, the next destination to reopen is Surat Thani Province, and only for Ko Samui, Ko Pa Ngan, and Ko Tao which has started welcoming visitors on this day under SAMUI Plus project. To ensure health and safety for tourists, various measures had been launched, from public health, transportation, to marketing, with the aim to attract tourists and create a good impression. Moreover, the project has encouraged locals in Ko Samui, Ko Pa Ngan, and Ko Tao to become more confident in the province's public health safety.
Mr. Wichawut Jinto, Governor of Surat Thani Province, said that after the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Cabinet approved the project, the province had consulted related stakeholders and agencies to prepare for the readiness of the SAMUI Plus Model. Preparations included ensuring the readiness of personnel for Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) such as boat drivers, drivers, restaurants, tour operators, wellness service operators, hotel front desk clerks, SHA Plus manager, and hotel volunteers, to name a few. The province had also provided financial assistance to the International School of Tourism to ensure the readiness of the province by offering courses covering knowledge on safety and health measures, welcoming and taking care of tourists, as well as how to provide good service. Moreover, four command centers had been established including provincial and district command centers with the objective to control and prevent the spread of the disease for those traveling to Ko Samui, Ko Pa Ngan, and Ko Tao. Measures that the province had announced included pre-entry measures and measures for transportation in the area which must follow the SAMUI Plus Model that had set three designated piers, separated from public piers: Na Phra Lan pier, Thong Sala pier, and Ban Mae Haad pier. Meanwhile, the province had made three levels of crisis preparation, from low, when more than 20 people in the area is infected; medium, when three connected clusters are found within two weeks; and high, when more than 40 tourists in the project are infected within two weeks, the virus has spread in a wide area, and there is difficulty in returning to the normal situation. Moreover, the province had asked for the cooperation of local business owners to act as good hosts in welcoming tourists and following the safety measures in place.
Dr. Manu Sukonsakul, Surat Thani Provincial Public Health Director, said that as Ko Samui, Ko Pa Ngan, and Ko Tao are small areas with limited medical personnel and hospitals, public health measures in place are strict and are separated into 5 parts, which are
Step 1: Screening, where the province has set an airport screening team which consisted of the International Communicable Disease Control, Ko Samui Hospital, Ko Samui Public Health Office, Samui Airport, and Bangkok Airways working together to screen tourists before entering the area with standard procedures from conducting temperature checks by officials from International Communicable Disease Control, ensuring that tourists have the correct documentation, to issuing a quarantine order by public health officials at one of the Samui Extra Plus hotels under the SAMUI Plus Model for 14 days. If the documentation is incorrect, the tourist will be denied entry into the kingdom. Step 2: Preparing for alternative quarantine, where the district chief office of Ko Samui has set up an evaluation committee to assess alternative quarantine sites. The committee consisted of district officers, Ko Samui Hospital, Ko Samui Public Health Office, International Communicable Disease Control, Surat Thani Provincial Transport Office, Ko Samui Branch, tourism associations, hotel associations, community representatives and civil representatives as well as the press with the following details:
1. The province announced for hotels and villas to apply for Samui Extra Plus certification 2. The committee visited hotels and villas that have qualified for Samui Extra Plus certification
3. Trainings on how to follow Samui Extra Plus guidelines are organized for related staff from COVID managers, public health volunteers at the hotel, and drivers
4. COVID managers and volunteers are trained on safety in performing their duties under the supervision of Ko Samui Hospital, and
5. Ko Samui Hospital, Ko Samui Public Health Office, and Surat Thani Provincial Transport Office, Ko Samui Branch, provided training for hotel drivers on disease prevention and how to clean the vehicle after servicing tourists. Step 3: Monitor and Prevention, where the Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, has cooperated with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to introduce MorChana and COSTE applications at Samui Extra Plus hotels and villas so that officials can conveniently monitor the health condition of tourists. If tourists fail to submit temperature checks, COVID managers and hotel volunteers will follow up with them for the next round of check-ups.
Step 4: Disease investigation, for cases where tourists are infected with the virus. For this step, officials will investigate using the QR code in the MorChana application which will record the places that have been visited and reveal the contact that tourists had with high risk individuals, providing an advantage for disease investigation and control. Lastly,
Step 5: Treatment once tourists are infected with the virus and swabs provide positive results, the COVID manager will notify the tourist to gather their personal items and wait for the vehicle from Ko Samui Hospital to take them for further treatment. For high risk contact cases, public health officials will place these individuals under quarantine and send for further swab samples.
Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, Governor for Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said that the SAMUI Plus project was launched on 15 July 2021 and was the second destination to be reopened after Phuket Province with the project covering the three beautiful islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pa Ngan and Ko Tao. TAT had coordinated with related government and private agencies to make preparations and carry out a 10-step plan which received the cooperation of all stakeholders which facilitated the project to be carried out with ease. Preparations included plans to promote understanding of health and safety measures and training business owners; plans to ensure the readiness of hospitals, medical personnel, medicine and equipment; plans for the project's promotion and communications, plans for screening incoming tourists via air, sea, and land transportation; plans to control and maintain security within and outside business venues; transportation plans in case the need to transport tourists or patients via air, sea, or land arises; plans to generate income for local businesses; plans to monitor and evaluate the project; waste management plans; and marketing promotion plans. He added that TAT is confident that with these preparations, the SAMUI Plus project will succeed in terms of revenue, confidence in public health safety, and environmental management. TAT had estimated that within the duration of one month, from 15 July to 15 August 2021, approximately 1,000 foreign visitors will travel to the province, generating about 180,000,000 baht in revenue.
Meanwhile, TAT had carried out campaign to promote the project by inviting the press, celebrities, and influencers from around the world to gain an impressive experience from the project as well as test the tourism products to share the experience with viewers, followers, and fans on their pages. Moreover, TAT had invited businesspeople from leading companies to conduct business negotiations or make investments in Ko Samui. On the first day of the project, 15 July 2021, a total of 9 visitors arrived in the province, all of whom are members of the press invited by TAT to experience SAMUI Plus project. The visitors arrived on two flights, PG 5125 Bangkok-Samui at 11.10 hrs, which carried 5 passengers from the UK, France, and Germany, and PG 5171 which landed in Samui at 18.15 hrs with 4 passengers from Singapore and Hong Kong.
There are also several requirements for foreign visitors from overseas destinations who may join the SAMUI Plus project. First of all, they must be from countries or areas approved by the CCSA in line with the announcement from the Ministry of Public Health which must also be approved by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the TAT. Secondly, the visitor must present a COE with a doctor's note confirming that the visitor is free from the COVID-19 virus using the RT PCR exam no more than 72 hours prior to travel. The visitor must also present an insurance policy that covers the costs of health and medical care, or other insurances that cover COVID-19 treatment with no less than USD 100,000 as well as a document or evidence stating that the visitor is fully vaccinated no less than 14 days prior to travel. For visitors younger than 18 years old and ineligible to receive the vaccine, they must travel with parents or guardians as well as present a doctor's note. Once the foreign visitors arrive in Thailand, they must also undergo 3 RT PCR exams, the first on the day of arrival, the second on the sixth or seventh day, and the last on the 12th or 13th day of their stay. Foreign visitors must complete the first 14 nights in Samui before being able to travel to other destinations in Thailand. Those who leave before 14 nights must head to only destinations outside of Thailand.
He added that for accommodation options, foreign visitors under the Samui Plus program must choose from Samui Extra Plus hotels, which have been officially approved with alternative quarantine accommodation standards. If the first test is negative, they may leave their rooms and join activities inside the hotel grounds. On the fourth to seventh day, they may opt for tours organized by tour operators who have passed the training in three sealed routes which are Tham Rang Beach at Mu Ko Angthong National Marine Park, boat trips, and wellness and spa activities. On the eight to 14th day, visitors may switch to other accommodations that have received the SHA Plus certificate on Ko Samui, Ko Pa Ngan, or Ko Tao.
Other measures that visitors must follow include installing the Thailand Plus and MorChana applications via healthpass.smartsamui.com upon entering Ko Samui District and following the SHA Manager system so that there are officials responsible to answer questions and take care of visitors as well as report any issues that arise so that assistance may be immediately provided by locals or business owners on the islands.