The proposal was submitted to Phuket officials and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) earlier this week, Phuket Chamber of Commerce President Thanusak Phungdet confirmed.
The plan relies on officials vaccinating the island with third ‘booster shot’ vaccinations by the end of October, Mr Thanusak explained.
“If that can be accomplished, we can fully open the island and treat COVID-19 like a cold,” he said.
“As you can see at this stage only 1% of our COVID patients [in Phuket] have been designated ‘category red’ and need close-care treatment at a hospital, and about 4% of our COVID patients have been designated ‘category yellow’ and are [under care] at field hospitals ‒ but 95% of our patients are ‘category green’ and are still healthy without any symptoms of infection,” Mr Thanusak noted.
“So, we can see that the Delta variant makes it very easy for us to become infected but does not result in serious symptoms. This is also a good result of our mass vaccination campaign. The Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines that we are providing work well,” he added.
“The faster we can provide booster vaccinations, the faster we close in on our goal to freely open our island [to tourism], which we plan to open in December, or January next year,” Mr Thanusak said.
“The plan requires all people to continue to follow the D-M-H-T-T measures set out by the Ministry of Public Health, but we will work on providing the third dose of vaccine as much as we can,” he added.
“People who become infected but have no symptoms can observe home isolation and take care of themselves just like having a normal flu. Those who cannot do home isolation may be taken to a quarantine venue. If they have severe symptoms, they will be taken to a field hospital,” Mr Thanusak explained.
“Medical staff will send equipment and medicine to each infected person at home, and the people must report their medical condition to staff every day,” he added.
Tourists under the Sandbox scheme still need to meet the same requirements to arrive in Phuket, Mr Thanusak continued.
“And the sandbox requirement may apply to domestic tourists too,” he said.
Life under the plan will be “nearly normal like before the pandemic”, Mr Thanusak observed.
“Entertainment venues and other venues can be open, with no control [ban] on alcohol, which could be served and sold in restaurants.”
Mr Thanusak noted the growing resistance to the policy of holding people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but not exhibiting any signs of infection being held at quarantine detention centres ‒ regardless whether they have tested positive only by a rapid test kit and have yet to be confirmed infected by RT-PCR test.
“Phuket people must understand that there is no point for taking infected people with no symptoms into quarantine places, which officers spend a lot of budget on and medical staff need to take care of them,” he said.
“I think It is better to move the medical staff to take care of ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ patients in hospitals. Medical staff should show our people clear numbers of patients designated as ‘yellow’ and ‘red’, so that our people can be confident and understand the situation,” he added.
“People who have died from the COVID-19 have been elderly and suffering chronic diseases. Some of them had not received any vaccination injections. This COVID-19 virus can kill us just like other diseases and accidents, but we have never made daily reports and paid as much attention [to such dangers] as we have done for this,” he noted.
“We need to know the statistics of our current situation. We are sad but need to accept the deaths. We cannot do nothing to move on and continue living our lives. If we cannot allow people to travel, Phuket cannot move on,” Mr Thanusak said.
The ‘Phuket Freedom Day’ push is hoped to bring in more than B210 billion in tourism-related revenue in just three months.
“We can’t continue this way. Hotels are suffering losses. What we need is ‘freedom day’ on Dec 1,” said Nantida Atiset, Vice President of International Marketing at the Phuket Tourist Association.
Phuket Tourism Council President Thanet Tantipiriyakit explained that opening the island to tourism on Dec 1 could see the more than 200,000 tourists arrive under the Sandbox scheme in December, and even more in the first quarter of next year in addition to boosted numbers of domestic tourists coming to Phuket.
“I really believe that we will have at least 200,000 foreign tourists in December, but we need to replan some settings to make it easier for tourists to come here,” Mr Thanet said.
“In the first quarter next year, the number is expected to increase to 250,000-300,000 foreign tourists,” he added.
“For the domestic market, I believe that after Sept 8, when tourists can enter the land under the new requirements, tourists will start to return. We will have at least 400,000 too 500,000 domestic tourists in the fourth quarter this year, and at least 500,000 to 600,000 tourists in Q1 next year.”
Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern chapter, noted that the constantly changing requirements was having an effect on bookings, making tourist arrivals difficult to predict.
“Right now, we still have a stable number of bookings, but with tourists’ behaviour and other factors that change all the time, our tourists usually make bookings at the last minute,” he said.
“We have received many questions from tourists about the [northern hemisphere] winter season. We expect that the bookings rate will increase about 20-30% among the hotels and resorts that are open under the SHA+ standard right now,” he added.
“The two most popular topics that tourists have asked us are about the pandemic situation in Thailand because our numbers of new infected cases are still increasing. I believe we all are contributing much effort to control the number [of infections],” Mr Kongsak said.
“The second topic is whether the restaurants and other businesses in Phuket are open as normal or not. We always try to tell them that only some restaurants are open, but that doesn’t diminish the joy of traveling here,” he added.
“We have received many questions about the ban on serving and selling alcoholic beverages [in restaurants, with all bars and entertainment venues nationwide still ordered closed].
“I understand that this is a part of the disease control measures. The Governor [Narong Woonciew] told me that we are controlled under the CCSA order, so we cannot lift the ban,” Mr Kongsak said.
“Tourism-related groups in Phuket have submitted a request to the Phuket government, the Phuket Public Health Office as well as the TAT director and the Minister of Tourism to consider lifting the ban on alcohol because we understand that our tourists need alcohol to enrich their meals,” he explained.
“Imagine, they want red wine with their steak, white wine with their seafood, and beer to refresh in the afternoon. If tourists do not have that kind of feeling, they will not feel like they are on holiday. They may consider going somewhere else like Tukey, where they have freedom to do such things,” Mr Kongsak pointed out.
“I want the government to consider this, and we have demonstrated that drinking alcohol does not affect the number of infected cases much if we drink in the right manner, not partying. We need to find the main cause to solve the problem,” he said.
Regarding the current state of Phuket’s battered tourism industry, Mr Kongsak noted that operators that are currently open are not doing so for profit right now.
“The only hotel operators right now are those who mainly receive income from Sandbox tourists, but I would like to clarify that nowadays no hotels are managing to make a profit. There is no money left for the owners for sure,” he said.
“Of B100 received, about 40-50% goes to paying staff, who are children of people in Phuket, and 30-40% goes to food suppliers, like farmers throughout the country. Then there is electricity and water bills, as well as paying taxi service operators, because right now most hotels on the island do not have their own cars to be used as taxis,” Mr Kongsak explained.