Thailand's most popular island resort is launching a mass inoculation program ahead of the rest of the country.
Phuket officials said that they plan to vaccinate at least 460,000 people, most of the island's residents, before its July reopening.
The launch of the island's COVID-19 vaccinations is two months ahead of the national program. Officials said that the accelerated plan is necessary as Phuket is planning to lift its quarantine requirements for all vaccinated foreign visitors in just a few months.
Officials said that once the requirement is lifted, foreign tourists should be able to roam the island freely without posing any risks to the inoculated residents. This will apply to all foreign visitors arriving at the island's own international airport.
"If we can build immunity for 70% to 80% of the population on the island, we can receive foreign tourists who have been vaccinated without the need for quarantine," Phuket's Vice Governor Piyapong Choowong said.
National vaccinations will continue but it will prioritize medical workers and the elderly first, officials said. In Phuket, residents will be able to get access to vaccines even if they are not frontline workers.
Experts said the Thai government prioritized the vaccination of the island's residents as its reopening will be vital to the recovery of its tourism-driven economy. Last year, foreign tourism accounts for about 12% of the country's GDP.
The country's tourism sector was heavily hit by the pandemic in 2020, which resulted in the loss of an estimated 1.45 million jobs. According to official data, around 6.7 million foreign tourists had visited the country in 2020 - a drastic drop from the 40 million tourists that visited in 2019.
Officials said that they hope to have at least 100,000 tourists visit the island of Phuket by the third quarter of this year. If global vaccinations continue their progress, officials said that they hope to have 6.5 million foreign visitors by the end of the year.
"It's a challenge. But that will contribute to GDP to some extent. We don't expect tourists will come in like a broken dam but we hope to have quality visitors with high spending," the head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Yuthasak Supasorn, said.