Everything You Need to Know About COVID-19 on Koh Tao and Travelling to Koh Tao Post COVID
Koh Tao post COVID. Wow. That’s a sentence we’ve longed to say for nearly three years now!
Like everywhere else in the world, COVID-19 on Koh Tao had a profound effect. But happily, the worst is now over. And yes, we know that COVID-19 is not yet entirely eradicated. However, Thailand’s borders are open, tourists are flowing in, and it’s time to look forward to a new era where phrases like ‘the new normal’, ‘social distancing,’ and ‘toilet paper shortage’ are a thing of the past!
If you’re planning a trip to Koh Tao post COVID you probably have lots of questions, like:
- What was the island like during the pandemic?
- How was COVID-19 on Koh Tao managed?
- Is the island the same again now as it was before COVID?
- Is there still COVID on Koh Tao?
All fair questions. So, here’s everything you need to know…
When Did COVID Reach Koh Tao?
The first known cases of COVID-19 on Koh Tao didn’t occur until around April 2021 – way after the worst of the pandemic had hit most other countries and regions. However, the first case in Thailand was reported well over a year earlier, in January 2020. So, even though there were no active cases on the island, we had already had plenty of time to adjust to ‘the new normal’ of lockdown procedures and various other safety and security measures the national and regional government had put in place to protect the public.
How Was COVID-19 on Koh Tao Managed?
In short, incredibly well. As an island destination, limiting the ferry arrivals meant much fewer opportunities for the virus to spread. Plus, the government was proactive in implementing measures early to reduce the potential spread of COVID. Koh Tao restrictions over various periods of the pandemic included:
- The mandatory wearing of masks outside your place of residence.
- Social groups of limited numbers in both private and public spaces.
- Curfews (ranging between 9pm and midnight) to prevent late-night gatherings and parties.
- An alcohol ban to deter large gatherings and unnecessary travel after curfew.
- The closure of communal spaces like gyms, massage parlours and spas, bars, restaurants, and swimming pools.
- Social distancing and temperature checks at the entrance to shops and supermarkets.
What was Koh Tao like During COVID-19?
As an island dependent on tourism for income, the effects of COVID-19 on Koh Tao were severe. Businesses struggled, many closed, and the island population dropped drastically as many Thais, Westerners, and Burmese migrant workers found themselves without an income and had no choice but to leave. It was a heartbreaking time for everyone. Even those who managed to keep their businesses afloat or close temporarily and ‘wait it out’ felt the pain of others who had poured their savings, time, and love into their companies and careers, only to find themselves at a complete loss through no fault of their own – and with absolutely nothing they could do about it.
It was a pretty depressing time, and there’s no sugar-coating that. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Several positives also came out of the COVID-19 pandemic:
The community became stronger – The Koh Tao community here has always been strong. But COVID brought the remaining residents together even more:
- Donations and food drives to help less fortunate community members became a common occurrence.
- Bonds between competing businesses were formed, with neighbour helping neighbour at every opportunity.
- The divisions between Thai, Western, and Burmese nationals fell away more than ever as we realised we were all in this together.
- The coral reefs became healthier.
- Marine life populations became more diverse.
- More rare birds were spotted in the skies above Koh tao than before.
New opportunities were found – With all the extra ‘downtime’ during lockdown, many new passions and initiatives were developed that will benefit the island as a whole. A few examples include:
- Koh Tao’s own Turtle Island Trail development, a trail race that attracted over 300 participants from across Thailand, Asia, and beyond in its inaugural year in 2022.
- New careers were discovered. Teaching English online became the ‘in thing’ for out-of-work divemasters and instructors, meaning many Westerners could stay on the island and continue contributing to the local economy rather than returning to their homelands.
- Partnerships and investments made by new Koh Tao locals who became ‘stranded’ during COVID on Koh Tao created employment opportunities and ensured a faster bounce-back rate than in many other locations.
We embraced a more environmentally-friendly way of life – The Koh Tao community has always been much more proactive in this respect than most other tourism hotspots. But the effects of COVID-19 on Koh Tao encouraged us to double down on previous efforts. Government officials and locals worked together so that when tourism returned, we could ensure both economic success and environmental sustainability. In the words of Chaiyan Thurasakul, the mayor of Koh Tao, “We are supporting the drive for cleanliness, safety, and comfort to appeal to tourists, while at the same time also working to revive natural beauty.”
- Beach and underwater cleanups saw more regular attendance, leading to a more eco-conscious mindset and a healthier ecosystem.
- Recycling and upcycling became a passion – to the point where entire new businesses were formed making organic products out of local materials and recycled produce (check out May and Co and Plas Tao in Sairee).
- Water and watershed management techniques were improved across the island, and solar power and zero-waste business strategies sky-rocketed.
Treatment and Vaccinations for COVID-19 on Koh Tao
At the peak of the pandemic when there were many active Koh Tao COVID cases, the local government, emergency services, and Koh Tao hospital staff worked tirelessly to contain the spread and provide care and treatment to everyone who needed it. Field hospitals sprung up in various locations, utilizing vacant resorts, offices, apartment blocks, and business units to provide quarantine housing and much-needed space for beds when the main hospital was over-capacity.
The fast and efficient reaction to COVID-19 on Koh Tao meant we had fewer cases than most other locations in Thailand. Local authorities were also quick to secure, schedule, and roll out a vaccination program which began in May 2021. The widescale rollout in June 2021 saw an estimated 70% of island inhabitants (both locals and foreigners) receiving their first shots within just a few days. Stats from the local branch of the Tourism Authority of Thailand suggest that over 80% of the island is now vaccinated.
Rebuilding Tourism on Koh Tao After COVID-19
The Thai government rolled out two Sandbox Schemes in partnership with the Tourism Authority of Thailand when the international borders reopened. This meant that tourists could fast-track their holidays to Koh Tao by staying in SHA (Safety and Health Administration) approved hotels on Koh Samui or Phuket before coming here. Only businesses following the necessary public health measures for COVID-19 were issued with an official SHA certificate. Companies wanting to become SHA+ certified had to meet additional requirements, which included:
- Following approved cleaning and hygiene procedures.
- Proving an employee vaccination rate of 70% or higher.
- Ensuring no unvaccinated staff had close contact with guests.
- Having adequate signage for Koh Tao COVID-19 procedures.
- Placing hand sanitizers and face masks at property entrances.
- Ensuring table arrangements were in line with social distancing guidelines.
- Preparing each staff member with COVID-19 emergency solutions.
The sandbox and SHA/SHA+ strategies were instrumental in bringing tourism back to Koh Tao, as were additional government packages designed to stimulate domestic tourism:
- We Travel Together – Provided around 20 billion baht in subsidies for domestic hotel stays, ancillary service and facility costs, and airline tickets.
- Moral Support – Allocated 2.4 billion baht to fund holiday travel expenses for approximately 1.2 million health workers and volunteers from sub-district hospitals.
- Co-Pay – Provided 2.4 billion baht in government funding to cover daily subsidies of food, drinks, and general goods purchases for Thai nationals.
Is there COVID on Koh Tao Now?
At the time of writing (Jan 2023), there are no current cases of COVID-19 on Koh Tao that we know of. Plus, mask requirements have been dropped, all types of businesses are back open, and regular opening hours have resumed (no more curfews, yey!). So, essentially it’s business as usual on Koh Tao post COVID.
Can I get a PCR Test on Koh Tao?
Rapid tests and PCR tests are available at Koh Tao Hospital. However, results for PCRs must be sent to Koh Samui or the mainland for analysis. So, expect a day’s delay to get your result back and factor that into your travel schedule.
4 Top Tips for Visiting Koh Tao Post COVID
While it’s fantastic to see visitors flowing back to the island and the local economy thriving once more, things are not entirely back to how they were before. So, if you’re planning a trip to Koh Tao post COVID, here are our top tips to ensure you have the most enjoyable and hassle-free stay.
- Plan diligently – The rules for insurance and vaccination requirements are still subject to regular changes and updates, so pay close attention in the lead-up to your trip. We try to provide the most up-to-date information for our customers. Aside from contacting the team at Island Travel, one of the best places to get the latest updates is from the Richard Barrow in Thailand Facebook Page.
- Book ahead – While many businesses have reopened, there is an employment shortage compared to before COVID-19 on Koh Tao. For example, dive centres typically have fewer divemasters and instructors than before. So, if you’re on a set schedule, be sure to book ahead to avoid disappointment.
- Be patient – Many businesses have started again from nothing with new staff, and sometimes on entirely new premises. Some employees are still training and finding their feet, and we haven’t seen tourists in such high numbers for several years now. So, make some allowances if the service isn’t as slick as you expect. Everyone is still learning and adjusting, and that takes time.
- Tip if you can – Some restaurants and bars include a service fee on your bill, but not all do – and service-based businesses like dive centres and massage parlours never do. Tipping is not mandatory or even expected a lot of the time, and we know you are on a budget too. But remember, it’s been a long time since many people on Koh Tao earned a salary at all, so any extra gratuity you can afford is greatly appreciated.
We hope you’ve found this information helpful in planning your trip to Koh Tao Post COVID, and we wish you all a safe, healthy, and happy stay on our paradise island. If you have any questions about travel tickets, visa information, accommodation, or scooter rental, please feel free to contact us.