image copyrightReutersimage captionPhuket is hoping these will be the first tourists of many

Thailand has welcomed its first quarantine-free tourists back to the island of Phuket as the country tries to reboot its tourism industry.

About 250 people, mainly from the Middle East, were expected to arrive on four flights on Thursday as part of the "Phuket Sandbox" scheme.

None of the arrivals need to quarantine, but they cannot travel to the mainland within 14 days.

It is hoped the scheme will bring in $278m (£201m) in the next three months.

But that is still far short of Thailand's pre-pandemic revenue from tourism, which accounts for about a fifth of the country's economy. According to news agency Reuters, Thailand lost around $50bn when visitor numbers plunged following the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020.

If successful, the country will roll out the scheme to other islands, with borders scheduled to open more fully in October.

"We know that there is a risk," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters after arriving on the island himself. "But we have to accept the risk so Thai people can make a living."

media captionYoung Thai workers race to reopen deserted beaches

But this attempt to revive tourism comes as Thailand battles to get its latest Covid outbreak under control. On Thursday, it reported a record 57 deaths and 5,533 cases. Two Delta variant cases have also been found on Phuket so far.

But the island has been prioritised for vaccination, and some 70% of its residents were due to be inoculated before the first tourists arrived on planes from Israel, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

The holidaymakers, who need to arrive vaccinated and provide proof of a negative test before entry to Phuket, will themselves undergo screening procedures before being allowed out onto the island. Their movements will then be monitored by an app they must download on arrival.

Those who want to travel more widely in Thailand will be able to do so after 14 days, so long as they have three negative coronavirus tests.