In light of the recent discovery that the Delta variant has been detected on the island of Phuket and a total of six “Phuket Sandbox” travelers have tested positive for Covid-10 since 1 July, the story of a Norwegian ending up in Alternative Local Quarantine on his own expense proves that the Sandbox may not be airtight.
Media Thai Examiner writes in a recent article that hyper-regulation is killing off enthusiasm for the Phuket sandbox travel model and that the red tape and regulations designed to protect public health is strangulating prospective travelers’ confidence in the scheme. And Norwegian trainee medical student Hans Erling Skallevold’s story could be a testimonial to that statement.
Hans Erling Skallevold’s recent trip to Thailand was his 27th trip but it is the first time he, according to his Thai girlfriend’s words, was left to feel unwelcome in the country. Hans is a medical trainee student with previous experience as an internet medical student at Thai medical facilities in Bangkok and Phitsanulok.
When he came to Thailand in December last year he stayed two weeks in an Alternative Local Quarantine facility in Bangkok but this time he booked his trip through the Phuket Sandbox scheme. Hans’s Thai girlfriend had planned her one week off work to meet him in Phuket upon arrival to the holiday island, but just hours before Hans left Norway for Thailand he was informed that his vaccination certificate could not be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok. The reason for the rejection was that Hans is cross-vaccinated with both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine and because of that, he would have to enter into quarantine in Thailand.
Hans got caught up in the confusion over the Certificate of Entry because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand was unable to issue Certificates of Entry until the Phuket Sandbox regulations were published in the Royal Gazette on June 30th. Hans received the news of his COE being rejected at 3 am on the 29th of June but only saw the information at 8 am and his flight departed for Thailand later that day at 1 pm which gave him very little time to react.
His girlfriend has later explained that “This is the first time he has felt unwelcome in his visit to Thailand. He prepared all the documents. At first, it wasn’t a problem. But just hours before leaving for Phuket, his initial COE was denied, now he feels like he is in prison.”
The unexpected news and change of accommodation it required cost Hans an extra THB 60.000, money he spent because he still wanted to be at least one step closer to his girlfriend in Thailand. Ironically as it may seem, Hans’s first flight was not prepared to handle the protocol for travelers going into ASQ facilities in Phuket so he was rejected upon check-in but luckily made it on a second flight to Phuket the following day. Thai Examiner writes that his luck was only due to the direct intervention of authorities in Phuket itself who were actively trying to smooth over problems arising from the scheme and snags caused by red tape.
Since then, the regulations for cross vaccination have been changed by the Thai authorities and from 5 July, cross-vaccinated travelers have been allowed to enter the Phuket sandbox under the original ‘no quarantine’ travel model. Hans is still in ASQ however after first being informed that he could transfer to the Sandbox model, he was then informed by officials who stated that he must remain the full 14 days in quarantine because that is what he originally agreed on entering Thailand through.
Speaking on the expensive and catastrophic experience this week, Hans said, “I’m a practicing dentist from Norway, a medical student, and a university researcher. I also work with COVID-testing and vaccinating, and treatment. This is my 27th time in Thailand, being involved in several hospitals and universities here, so I’m fairly familiar. I was in ASQ last December. I have been involved in promoting Phuket and the Sandbox, and have been among their most engaging supporters. Sadly, I am not much of a supporter anymore. To put it simply, our plan for Phuket was perfect, the government was not. This is their way of treating one of Thailand’s biggest fans.”
According to Thai authorities, they have from the beginning of the Sandbox program been obligated to enforce strict requirements of entry into Phuket to protect the health of the Thai public but in time, they can adjust the measurements for more ease and convenience for travelers.